"Big Play" Darryl Bonner embodies the spirit of Navy football.
The versatile senior slotback can scamper for a long run, catch a pass downfield or throw a hard block to break open a play for one of his teammates. That type of selflessness among players such as Bonner is a key reason for the Midshipmen's consistent success.
This year, Bonner, along with linebacker D.J. Palmore, was named co-captains by his teammates, which underscores his charismatic leadership abilities.
"Being elected team captain at the Naval Academy is one of the highest honors you can receive at an institution that prides itself on producing great leaders," Midshipmen head coach Ken Niumatalolo said. "Darryl and D.J. are not only outstanding football players, but they are great leaders in the locker room and in Bancroft Hall, and I have no doubt they will be great captains for us."
Bonner, 5-foot-7 and 178 pounds, had a breakout season in the Midshipmen's triple-option offense in 2016. He played a significant role when several key players went down with injuries, playing in 12 games and carrying the ball 29 times for 227 yards and two touchdowns. Bonner was also Navy's second-leading receiver, with 278 yards on 10 catches and three scores.
"I'm just going to try and replicate what I did last year," Bonner said after practice earlier this season. "Whenever the ball is in my hands, I'm just going to try to do the most I can for the team."
Entering the 2017 season, there were a lot of questions surrounding the Navy offense because of the amount of talent lost to graduation. In addition to Bonner playing a more prominent role, the Midshipmen also have a new starting quarterback in Zach Abey (Archbishop Spalding). Abey was thrown into the spotlight last year when he got the start against archrival Army at M&T Bank Stadium Dec. 10.
Bonner and the offense quieted some of those questions during the Midshipmen's 42-19 season-opening victory against Florida Atlantic Sept. 1. Bonner caught a 39-yard touchdown pass from Abey that rounded out Navy's scoring in the fourth quarter. In addition to the touchdown reception, Bonner got the start at slotback and ran the ball six times for 24 yards.
Bonner is expected to play a key role going forward. He has had a steady climb in the Navy football program since arriving from Terry Sanford High School in Fayetteville, N.C., and attending Naval Academy Prep School for the 2013-14 academic year.
Bonner was a three-sport athlete at Terry Sanford, earning letters in basketball, football and track and field. He was a talented quarterback for the Bulldogs, earning all-conference honors as a junior and senior. Bonner also served as captain in both of those seasons. As a senior, he was named the conference's Athlete of the Year, eventually making his way to the Naval Academy.
Bonner has maintained the same work ethic he developed in high school at Navy.
"I practiced every week like I was going to play a lot," Bonner said. "I've had a knack for making people miss since I was little. But we have a lot of good A-backs every year. If you're a slotback, you know you better make the most of your opportunities."
While Bonner only played in two games as a sophomore, he continued to work hard and listened to advice from his coaches and upper classmen. That helped when he was thrust into play in 2016 when the Mids lost three slotbacks -- Calvin Cass (ankle), Dishan Romine (leg) and Toneo Gulley (ankle) -- to injuries. The Mids also lost two starting quarterbacks for the season.
Bonner immediately helped fill the void. He had one of his best games against Louisiana Tech in the Armed Forces Bowl when he caught a 64-yard touchdown pass, which set a record for the longest touchdown pass in the bowl's history. Bonner also had four carries for 22 yards during the 48-45 loss.
"Darryl is very good with the ball in his hands," Danny O'Rourke, Navy's special teams coordinator/slotbacks coach, said. "He has some shake and can make people miss. He also has really good hands and runs good routes. What's funny is that he doesn't catch the ball all that well in practice, but when you turn on the lights he seems to catch everything thrown his way."
As a captain, Bonner understands his responsibility to lead his fellow teammates in the right direction.
"It's a large responsibility that I accepted with a real sense of humble pride," Bonner said about being named captain. "Knowing that you're a leader of many leaders in this brotherhood is something very special."
Photo Credit: Alex Edelman/PressBox
Issue 237: September 2017