At 5-foot-7, Darryl Bonner was overlooked for football by major colleges coming out of high school in Fayetteville, N.C., even though he was named his conference's athlete of the year as a senior for his play as a quarterback and as a point guard in basketball.
He was excited to accept an opportunity to play at Navy, but he barely saw the field in his first two seasons – two games, one carry. However, he received more playing time as a junior because of injuries in the backfield, and the story of "Big Play Bonner" began.
Bonner, a slot back in Navy's triple-option attack, averaged 14 yards on 41 touches rushing, receiving and returning kickoffs last season. He helped the Midshipmen's upset of No. 6 Houston with a key touchdown catch, and grabbed a 64-yard TD pass in the Armed Forces Bowl against Louisiana Tech.
"Just being able to help the team make big plays," Bonner said modestly. "Whenever my number was called, I was fortunate to be able to make a big play for the team.
"There would be times where at the end of the game or in close games, I would get the ball in my hands and make a big play, or just during the course of the game making a long run or big catch or something like that."
As a senior and co-captain, Bonner hasn't put up numbers quite as eye-popping this season – he was slowed by a high ankle sprain that sidelined him for two games – but he still has been a solid contributor as the Mids entering Saturday's game against Army at Lincoln Financial Field.
He rushed for a career-high 68 yards on five carries in a win over Air Force. Six of his seven receptions have been for 18 yards or longer, including a season-high 52-yarder against Tulane. His one touchdown catch went for 39 yards against Florida Atlantic.
Bonner, who will be commissioned as a second lieutenant in the U.S. Marines after graduation, said that at the beginning he could not have imagined his life at Navy. He spent a year at the Naval Academy Prep School learning the ways of the academy.
"It's all second-nature now, but it was a tough adjustment coming out of high school," he said. "They were like, 'Do this, square corners,' and I'd be like, 'What is squaring a corner?' When they would yell something, I'd say, 'I don't know what you're talking about.' Looking back on it, it's just funny now to see how far I've come."
Bonner, who missed last year's Army-Navy game because of a concussion, wants to get a win Saturday for his senior class. The Midshipmen will play in the Military Bowl later this month before the seniors head out on their service assignments.
"That was a huge moment," Bonner said of receiving his assignment. "It was just surreal knowing what I'm going to do, at least for the next five years, and I'm really looking forward to it. I feel like I'm doing something that I really want to do."