The former Jacksonville State receiver and return specialist was getting that kind of buzz before his appearance at last month’s NFL Scouting Combine, and he did nothing to hurt that reputation Tuesday.
His appearance at JSU’s pro day was a chance to follow up on his Combine experience, another chance to show the scouts not all the draftable players go to schools such as Alabama, Oregon or Texas.
“Coming from a smaller school, it is harder for us to get our names out there a little further,” Bonner said. “The guys who go to the bigger schools, they always have the highlights and stuff you can Google on them. You can rarely find stuff on me.
“I feel like I was kind of under the radar some, but once they looked at the film and saw what kind of player I was and saw me at the all-star game and Combine, it boosted their knowledge and pretty much let me know they’re looking. I want to be a sleeper in the draft. That’s what I really want.”
Bonner was one of 16 players — 10 with JSU connections — to audition for more than a dozen NFL teams. There was a lot of clock watching, lifting, jumping and measuring and, of course, encouragement from among the players who all came to JSU Stadium seeking the same goal.
The scouts huddled like college basketball referees discussing a late-game shot clock violation to share 40-yard dash and shuttle times, but the players were left only with the hopes they left an impression.
In fact, during the instructions for one of the running tests, the players were told not to wait for their times after hitting the finish line.
“For most guys there is a little bit of stress, seeing a lot of scouts here, and right now I’m sure a lot of their minds are kind of rushing,” said Buffalo Bills cornerback T.J. Heath, one of the Gamecocks’ current NFL players on hand to watch. “For some, this is their only (look). It can be their chance to go. That’s why I say the pressure’s on … but at the end of the day I think they’ll be fine.”
The pro day experience did help former JSU defensive back A.J. Davis’ career. He impressed enough in a pro day at Troy last spring to sign a free-agent contract. He eventually was activated by the Saints for the final game of this past regular season.
“I was prepared so well for that one pro day that I did mostly all I needed to do there,” Davis said. “I didn’t take it as an all-or-nothing type deal. I kind of took it as motivation. I was very confident in it. I knew I had been working hard throughout my training.”
Running back Washaun Ealey didn’t feel any particular pressure to perform. While he was a little disappointed with his 40 times, he impressed on the bench press and as a receiver out of the backfield catching passes from former JSU quarterback Ryan Perrilloux.
“I felt like I did good,” Ealey said. “I kept my head very relaxed. It’s what I’ve been doing all my life … so it felt natural to me.
“I just want to get a chance to play in the league and follow my dream and hopefully one day change my life.”
Sports Writer Al Muskewitz: 256-235-3577. On Twitter @almusky_star.