BOCA RATON – Alabama native Tim Bonner arrived in Florida following what may well prove to be a fortuitous layover in Mississippi.
He’s new to the Florida Atlantic campus, but quickly became of the most famous students on campus – somewhat of an overnight sensation. Over-the-weekend sensation, anyway.
What seems to be an unofficial Tim Bonner fan club launched last week about the same time that Netflix released the second season of its hit docu-series Last Chance U, which showcased last year’s East Mississippi Community College football season. Bonner was both a star on the team and in the series.
In the dorms, at the cafeteria and pretty much anywhere around campus, people are recognizing Bonner.
“A lot of people know who I am when they see me,” Bonner said following Thursday’s practice, the first of the new season for FAU. “I don’t really let it get to my head, for real. I just try to be myself.”
The fast-talking, subject jumping defensive end became a popular topic on Twitter, with many in the nation sharing the opinion of @CoachN_J_, who wrote “Tim Bonner def my fav from Last Chance U 2”.
Fellow defensive end Haiden Nagel says the show is a popular topic among the Owls and calls Bonner, in particular, “a character.”
“He says so many words so fast they just put the subtitles up,” Nagel said of Bonner and the show.
The praise is welcomed by Bonner, who worried that Last Chance U would only highlight his mistakes.
“I thought it was going to show I did some bad things, but I didn’t,” Bonner said. “I just did some good things.”
Bonner originally signed with Ole Miss where his defensive line coach would have been Chris Kiffin. Now that Chris is FAU’s defensive coordinator, Bonner followed him south to where Chris’ brother, Lane Kiffin, is the new head coach.
“I understand him better than you guys probably do, so I don’t need subtitles,” Lane joked on Thursday.
Bonner is one of four members of the Last Chance U crew now part of the FAU program. Quarterback De’Andre Johnson, who’s gained as much if not more internet fame from the show as Bonner, is battling to be the starting quarterback. Clint Trickett, now FAU’s tight ends coach, was Johnson’s quarterback coach at East Mississippi. C.J. Johnson, also an assistant at East Mississippi, is now a defensive graduate assistant at FAU.
At times on Thursday Kiffin sounded more like a TV critic than he did a football coach.
“I feel like I’m talking about a TV show, like just a TV show,” Kiffin said. “It’s not really real – it’s kind of weird – Like Friday Night Lights.”
Turns out, the TV show proved useful to Kiffin, who watched a few episodes as a means of self-scouting Johnson and Bonner.
“It was good to just to kind of learn our two players that are from there, especially De’Andre,” Kiffin said.
Expected to immediately claim the FAU starting QB spot upon his arrival in Boca Raton, Johnson struggled during the spring and still finds himself battling incumbent Jason Driskel.
The offensive terminology in particular gave Johnson some issues in the spring, but he’s much more comfortable now.
From watching Last Chance U, Kiffin understands how a confident Johnson can benefit an FAU program that has managed more than three wins in a season only once since 2010.
“I thought you saw him rise to the challenge [thinking], OK, we’re not playing really good on defense. I’ve got this,” Kiffin said.
Bonner says he and Johnson haven’t spoken about the show since it’s release. He admitted to being a bit winded at times during Thursday’s practice, but pledged to quickly get into game shape.
The Owls need him. He’s one of the players who will be counted on to replace the pass rushed supplied the past two seasons by Trey Hendrickson, now with the New Orleans Saints.
“He’s a funny, cool dude,” FAU defensive tackle Ray Ellis said of Bonner. “I just hope he comes to work everyday because we are looking forward to him contributing.”