On March 1, 2012, the UofL Athletic Department unveiled the slogan “Louisville First, Cards Forever”. Rick Pitino kind of started the movement by harping on the message that he expects his team to play for the name on the front of the jersey and not the name on the back. While that is the goal and the message for most teams around the country, things don’t always shake out that way. Players have egos. They want their stats and highlights. But is there anyone that exemplifies “Louisville First” more than Reggie Bonnafon?
Talk about playing for the name on the front and not the back. Making sacrifices for the team and not worrying about how you look, or your pride or ego. In this day and age? Very rare. We have a special one in the red and black.
Reggie grew up a Louisville fan. He went to Trinity High School and like he does now, played multiple positions. He wasn’t even the starting quarterback for the varsity team until his senior year. He spent most of his junior season at wide receiver. Yet he committed to Louisville as a quarterback.
As a freshman in 2014, Bonnafon competed for playing time behind center with Will Gardner and Kyle Bolin. All three saw significant snaps at QB, although for most of the season, it was Gardner and Bonnafon. Most of Bolin’s time came in the last two games (Kentucky and Georgia).
Reggie started five games as a true freshman, his first start coming just days after his father passed away. He didn’t travel to FIU with the team after his dad passed, but Will Gardner hurt his knee during the game. Reggie would then have to start the next week. He led the Cards to a conference win over Wake Forest 20-10. Anyone would have understood if he took more time to be with his family, no doubt about that. He put the team first.
On the WDRB pregame special before the Purdue game last Saturday, Reggie spoke about his father. “Luckily he was able to see one of my first games I actually got to play when I was a freshman against Murray State. So that’s another memory that I can always cherish, to know that he saw me get to this point.”
In his biggest game as a freshman, Bonnafon led the Cardinals to a 31-28 win in South Bend over Notre Dame. He accounted for three touchdowns, two rushing and one passing. As we all know, he was injured against Kentucky, and then it was Kyle Bolin’s show for that game and most of the Belk Bowl. But needless to say, Reggie had a very solid freshman season at the quarterback position.
Then we move to 2015. Reggie started five games at quarterback as a freshman. But the entire offseason would be spent with people wondering who would be THE guy at QB for Louisville. Would it be sophomore Reggie? Kyle Bolin had shown he could play at this level. Will Gardner was back, but was he healthy? Then there was this freshman named Lamar Jackson. Gardner had experience. Bolin was accurate and maybe the best decision maker. Reggie brought athleticism that neither of the first two had. Lamar Jackson was the wildcard. We weren’t exactly sure what we had there.
Opening game against Auburn in the Georgia Dome, and it’s Reggie Bonnafon starting at quarterback. Lamar Jackson would finish the game, however. For the rest of the way, it was a back and forth of Lamar and Bolin at QB. Gardner was too injured to play at all. Reggie would only throw 24 passes for the season after throwing 120 as a freshman.
So what does he do? Bury himself on the QB depth chart and not contribute? Absolutely not. Bobby Petrino knew that Reggie was too good of an athlete to keep him on the sidelines. So rather than just being a second or third string quarterback that is relaying plays in to the starter, Reggie caught passes as a wide receiver. He ran the ball as a running back. This was another time when he displayed his “Louisville First” attitude. As fast as Lamar Jackson runs by defenders now, Reggie had lost his starting quarterback spot. He could have sulked and pouted. He chose to help the team in whatever way he could.
He finished his sophomore season with 10 catches for 105 yards and 45 rushes for 175 yards.
Between his sophomore and junior seasons, the coaching staff moved Reggie to full-time receiver. The quarterback spot clearly was Lamar Jackson’s. Kyle Bolin was more than a formidable backup. So that spot was good to go. Now Reggie was going back to his position he played as a junior at Trinity. With targets like Jamari Staples, James Quick, Cole Hikutini, and Jaylen Smith, Bonnafon didn’t put up huge numbers. He had 13 catches for 159 yards and five of those were touchdowns. He only rushed the ball five times for seven yards. So he was clearly a wide receiver.
Now Reggie has moved to running back. He can still line up as receiver and catch passes. He has already done that in Louisville’s only game this season. As a rusher against Purdue, he had six carries for 33 yards and a touchdown, an average of 5.5 yards per carry. Just making plays wherever he is needed.
Back in July at ACC media day, Bobby Petrino said "Reggie is real close to my heart because he is the ultimate team player. There is no question about that. He'll do anything he can possibly do to help us win."
Quarterback, wide receiver, running back. I just call Reggie Bonnafon a football player. The ultimate team player. He grew up in this city and cheered for the Cards just like many of us did. He got to live out his dream by playing for his hometown school. He faced adversity like no other as a freshman after suddenly losing a parent. He lost his job as the starting quarterback. Yet here he is as a senior, literally doing whatever is best for the team and the program. He won’t have the best stats we have ever seen. He may not win any national post-season awards. People around the country may not know much about him. But he is absolutely the perfect example of “Louisville First”, and I certainly hope that everyone recognizes and appreciates the “team first, not me first” attitude that Reggie personifies.
We are lucky to have Reggie Bonnafon on our team.