BLOOMINGTON – Just a glance at Bryson Bonds’ profile would hint at his potential for Indiana.
Here is a 6-1, 200-pound safety, who runs a sub-4.5 40, who collected 115 tackle and 11 pass breakups in his senior season, who played in the prep football mecca of Texas. Bonds was also smart enough to hold a host of offers from Ivy League schools.
What a prospect appears to be and what kind of football player they become are not always matched. It seems in the case of Bonds, though, that he came as advertised.
“To come with such a professional mindset, he’s so locked in,” IU defensive coordinator Kane Wommack said of the freshman. “He’s a smart guy. But you teach him something, the next day, he understands it. The third day, he anticipates it, you know what I’m saying? And that, to me, for a freshman to come in and do that multiple times, right, over and over again in these first 10 practices, has been really exciting.”
It seems there is a reason Bonds was a tackle-machine in high school, and, for those reasons, Wommack anticipates the freshman will be traveling with the Hoosiers and playing a role in 2020.
Of course, there are some incumbents ahead of Bonds on IU’s depth chart, including juniors Devon Matthews, Jamar Johnson, and Juwan Burgess. But with a season-ending injury to Marcelino Ball at the husky position, and with Raheem Layne potentially missing time to injury, the Hoosiers do need depth in the secondary.
IU coach Tom Allen mentioned Bonds when talking about Ball’s absence.
“I think it’s going to give an opportunity for a guy like Bryson Bonds to play some more snaps,” Allen said. “He’s definitely a guy we have been extremely impressed with.”
An emerging target
Bonds isn’t the only freshman who has received positive reviews. On defense, the list includes linebacker Ty Wise, cornerback Chris Keys, and defensive lineman Damarjhe Lewis. But it’s on offense where another player may be pushing for early snaps.
Javon Swinton, a three-star “athlete” out of Virginia, has flashed significant potential at receiver. He was previously mentioned by Allen as an early standout, but both offensive coordinator Nick Sheridan and quarterback Michael Penix Jr. joined in offering positive assessments this week.
“The other guys are learning and coming along, but certainly for a true freshman, Javon has done a nice job,” Sheridan said. “Still has miles to go and Coach (Grant) Heard is developing him a whole bunch each and every day. He’s shown some promise.”
IU could use another playmaker at receiver, especially with David Ellis spending time at running back. While senior Whop Philyor is an All-Big Ten talent, and classmate Ty Fryfogle has also made his share of plays, the rest of the IU corps is a youthful contingent.
Swinton brings an interesting profile to the mix. He was not only a star football player for North Stafford High but also a standout basketball player. The 6-2, 170-pounder reached the 1,000-point mark early in his junior season.
“We got some young guys, I got Javon Swinton, he’s doing real good on the outside,” Penix said. “He’s been getting a lot of reps.”
A fast-rising TE
Another freshman who has been universally praised is tight end AJ Barner.
Of course, Sheridan played a role in the Ohio native’s recruitment, because he was the tight ends coach last year before moving to coordinator/quarterbacks for 2020. Just watching the 6-5, 225-pounder play for Aurora High — both on the offensive and defensive sides — it was evident that Barner had an edge to him.
“AJ just loves to play football,” Sheridan said. “Just from a pure physical standpoint at tight end, he’s 6-5-plus, he’s about 220 pounds, he’s athletic, he can move, change directions. You see that with him playing middle linebacker for his high school. … He was totally engaged and locked in. He was tough as nails, competitive, all the makings of a good football player.”
Earlier in the week, when talking about the NCAA’s eligibility ruling, Allen talked about Barner as someone who may have been a four-game candidate to preserve a redshirt. This year, with all fall athletes getting an extra year of eligibility, there is no need to sit him.
Allen mentioned special teams, but it will be interesting to see if Barner also sees the field for IU’s offense. The Hoosiers return All-Big Ten target Peyton Hendershot, as well as an intriguing pass-catching prospect in redshirt freshman Gary Cooper.
IU also has two more veterans in South Alabama graduate transfer Kham Taylor and junior Matt Bjorson.
“He’s gotta do it, he’s gotta prove it, he’s gotta earn it at this level,” Sheridan said of Barner. “Some of the older guys, Peyton, Matt, they are doing a great job just bringing him along and explaining to him what’s required. Certainly, AJ will benefit from their mentorship, because they care a whole bunch about the team.”
The young hogs
IU had a situation last year where a true freshman was thrust into action, as Matt Bedford took the place of an injured Coy Cronk. The Hoosiers aren’t wishing for a similar scenario in 2020.
But IU offensive line coach Darren Hilller did offer some positive reviews of his freshman crop. Kahlil Benson, one of the later adds to IU’s 2020 class, is one of the more intriguing players in that mix.
“He’s got some quick-twitch to him,” Hiller said of the 6-6, 332-pounder from Mississippi. “He’s a guy who will have an opportunity early on, this season, to probably get some reps and get a little game experience under his belt. He’s got some football IQ stuff — the game was a little simpler for him in high school than it is here. He just has to adjust to the speed of the game from a mental standpoint.”
One of the other players Hiller spotlighted has a familiar name to Hoosier fans. Cameron Knight, the Noblesville native and younger brother of IU alum and current Cowboy tackle Brandon Knight, has shown some football savvy.
“It’s eerie how much his mannerisms and all those things are like his brother,” Hiller said of the 6-3, 280-pound center. “He’s just not quite as big right now. He’s got to continue to gain weight. But football-wise, he understands football. Very quick, very strong for a guy at his weight right now.”
Also, offensive guard Brady Feeney, who had a COVID-19 scare this summer, is back with the team and practicing. Hiller compared him to another Hoosier standout.
“He reminds me, body-wise, of a Wes Martin-type of build,” Hiller said. “He’s a very powerful guy.”