Chris Bonner never imagined he would be the star quarterback of one of the best college football teams in the country.
But fast forward from his high school days until now, and there is Bonner, the signal caller for Colorado State-Pueblo, the eleventh-ranked team in the nation in NCAA Division II football.
If you had told me back then that I would be where I am now, I would have never believed you.
“If you had told me back then that I would be where I am now, I would have never believed you,” Bonner said. “I really didn’t think I would end up going anywhere with football. It’s been great. I love playing and my family and friends are amazed and proud of me.”
Bonner , who also played basketball and tennis at Clairemont High School in San Diego, is in his second season with the ThunderWolves, and two games into his senior year, he is off and running.
Last Saturday, Bonner and his Pueblo teammates faced the daunting task of playing FCS powerhouse BR-13 Sam Houston State, which was riding a 23-game home win streak. Bonner, however, was ready to rise to the occasion.
He threw for 255 yards as he completed 20 of 32 passes, three for touchdowns, in a convincing 47-21 victory that extended Pueblo’s regular-season win streak to 39 games. That win came on the heels of a season-opening 35-6 victory over BR-10 West Texas A&M. Bonner was 16-of-31 for 277 yards and four touchdowns, highlighting the performance with a 66-yard scoring strike to Paul Browning less than three minutes into the game.
“We feel really good about the way we played as a team in those first two games,” Bonner said. “We executed our game plan and I think the two wins gave us a lot of confidence as we get ready for conference play. It’s good experience that will pay off in the long run.”
No one should be surprised by Bonner’s success, especially after what he accomplished a year ago during an 11-1 season that featured a Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference championship and trip to the playoffs.
Bonner threw for 3,413 yards as he completed more than 60 percent of his passes. He threw for 33 touchdowns and was only picked off nine times. This season, he has already thrown for 532 yards and has connected seven times on touchdown passes while throwing only one pick.
But Bonner won’t take all of the credit. He’s humble and is quick to point out that he is surrounded by talented teammates who make his job a whole lot easier.
Cameron McDondle is the ThunderWolves’ top rusher, he’s racked up 199 yards and two scores already this season. Browning is Bonner’s top target. He has caught 11 passes for 200 yards and two touchdowns while Jarred Radabaugh has made nine catches for 110 yards and three scores.
The ThunderWolves are averaging 443 yards per game and allowing only 264.
“We have so many options on this team, and it just makes things easier for me,” Bonner said. “I have great teammates and it’s nice that I can hand the ball off or throw it and know that someone will make a play.”
Bonner began his college career at the junior college level as he played at Grossmont College. He threw for 381 yards and two touchdowns during his freshman season but turned heads the following year as he shredded defenses to the tune of 2,450 yards and 19 touchdowns.
Last year, he helped lead the ThunderWolves into the postseason where its run came to a halt in a 34-30 second-round loss to Grand Valley State.
Pueblo led 16-6 after one quarter but a 21-point second quarter by the Lakers helped turn the tide. Bonner helped give the ThunderWolves a 30-27 lead with 7:37 left to play when he connected with Stehly Reden on a nine-yard touchdown pass. The Lakers scored with under two minutes to go to take the lead and the win.
Bonner said he and his teammates haven’t forgotten the loss.
“That loss is on our minds,” Bonner said. “We used it as extra motivation in getting ready for the season. We want to have a different result this year and be ready to make run at the championship.”
But while a championship is the ultimate goal for the ThunderWolves, it’s not what the team is focused on at the moment. After all, with a target on its back, Pueblo has to be ready to be at its best each week.
“We know the target gets bigger every week, but we just have to worry about us,” Bonner said. “We treat every week like a big game and we know that if we are focused and ready to play, things will work out.”