Cougar receiver powers past tough times to thrive
Although largely unheard of during the last three seasons, one member of the football team is becoming a household name among Cougar fans.
In just five games in 2016, junior wide receiver Linell Bonner has eclipsed his yardage total of 439 from last year and is averaging 87.8 yards per game with two scores.
Against the University of Connecticut, Bonner played the best game of his career — accumulating 12 receptions for 159 yards and a highlight-reel touchdown that found its way to SportsCenter’s Top 10.
All this media attention, however, made it easy to forget that Bonner was once in danger of having his career shortened without ever setting foot on the field.
Proof of potential
After playing football for Dekaney High School, Bonner entered the Cougar football team in 2013 thanks to his high school coach’s connection with the coaching staff. Although he sat out his freshman year, Bonner said he improved daily during practices.
“My first year I redshirted and I would say towards bowl week I had moved up to the (second-string),” Bonner said. “But about four weeks before spring ball, I tore everything in my knee so I didn’t get to play my sophomore year either.”
Bonner recovered just in time to join new head coach Tom Herman’s spring football workouts. He impressed both Herman and offensive coordinator Major Applewhite.
Applewhite said Bonner’s most outstanding element was his intelligence. Despite not having formal game experience, he was easy to coach.
“When we were putting in the new offense and putting in plays, the volume of offense starts to become too much for players,” Applewhite said. “The first thing that jumped out to me was that he was the one guy who wasn’t busted. He always knew his assignment, would catch the ball that was thrown to him.”
Bonner knew that he would be an unknown upon meeting Herman and the coaching staff.
Since he needed a scholarship, Bonner was motivated to show the coaches that he was a physical player and rapid learner. He got one before the 2015 season.
“I was just thinking about how all the hard work paid off — everything about when I tore my knee and thought my career was over,” Bonner said. “That’s basically what they told me, that I’d never be the same. And once I got (the scholarship) I made sure to not get complacent and stay consistent, to earn that spot on the bus.”
For Bonner, it was incredibly satisfying playing during the 2015 season after sitting out for two years.
During his time at UH, Bonner has learned from two of the team’s best receivers, Deontay Greenberry and Demarcus Ayers. Bonner absorbed their advice and translates it into his performance on the field.
After the championship season last year where he was not considered as the main player, Bonner emerged as the top receiver for five games.
Despite adversity, Bonner has battled through to become a mainstay for the Cougars.
From not being highly recruited out of high school to nearly having a career-ending injury, Bonner is proof that being smart and having a strong work ethic will fulfill goals.
“I always felt like he could be a starter because intelligent players are a commodity,” Applewhite said. “He’s doing things at a faster level and producing at a higher level because there’s more recognition in his assignment, there’s more know-how and there’s more experience. He’s done a really good job.”