IU’s Bonhomme flashes in win over Maryland

As soon as Maryland brought its tight end in motion, D.K. Bonhomme knew what was coming.

The Terrapins had tried this before, with just under nine minutes left in the second quarter, motioning a tight end toward the Hoosiers’ 6-foot-3, 235-pound outside linebacker. That tight end just barely scraped Bonhomme, overly anxious to get outside and lead the way for Maryland quarterback Taulia Tagovailoa.

How Maryland played it the first time was a mistake, as IU’s lightning-quick sophomore changed directions and burst toward the sideline, closing on Tagovailoa before he could even gain a yard on second-and-2. The second time the Terrapins motioned that tight end, early in the third quarter, their error was even more catastrophic.

Backed up on their own 4-yard line, the tight end came toward Bonhomme’s side. This time, the tight end’s path was even wider, not even bothering to touch Bonhomme. Tagovailoa, again, faked a handoff to his running back, but Bonhomme already knew.

He just darted for Tagavailoa.

“He ran wider, so I just knew it was going to be a bluff and the quarterback was going to keep it,” Bonhomme said. “It was my opportunity to make a play, and I just took it.”

By pouncing on Tagavailoa in the end zone, Bonhomme created a game-changing play, getting the Hoosiers a 9-3 lead on the safety, plus the ball back for another touchdown drive in a 27-11 win. This was also a shining moment for a young IU defender — a gifted Canadian who came a long way to make plays like this.

Born in Haiti, Di-Stephano Kervens “D.K” Bonhomme’s family moved to Montreal, Canada, when he was 5 years old. Then Ottawa at 15. He’s spoken French his whole life, only really beginning to hone his English in the last handful of years. He’s been a football player since the age of 6, but most of that was spent on Canada’s wider fields, positioned more as a defensive back.

Bonhomme was playing a safety-linebacker hybrid when Clearwater Academy International coach Jesse Chinchar flipped on the tape of his soon-to-be exchange student from Canada Prep. One bubble-screen play, where Bonhomme was lined up in coverage, about 10 yards off the line of scrimmage, jumped right off the screen.

He was moving at a different speed, flying in and flinging the receiver backward.

“You could see his ability to go from 0-to-60 and just explode through the receiver,” Chinchar said. “There’s this ability to uncoil his hips on contact, which is very necessary for a big-time linebacker. In that one clip, you could tell, that’s a Power 5 football player.”

Clearwater Academy International has earned a reputation for taking once-overlooked prospects and giving them a chance to match up with Florida-level speed and athleticism. IU defensive tackle Sio Nofoagatoto’a was a classmate of Bonhomme’s at Clearwater Academy, making his way over from Australia via American Samoa.

Bonhomme was actually Chinchar’s first Canadian import. Before him, many of the small academy school’s exchange students came from Europe, particularly Italy. But through his junior year at Canada Prep, there weren’t many offers for Bonhomme from American football programs. So one of his Canadian coaches directed him to Clearwater Academy for his senior season.

Just from watching those clips, and seeing how Bonhomme was built, it was clear to Chinchar that he was being overlooked for purely geographical reasons.

“You see him in person, he looks like an NFL linebacker, and he looked like that in high school, too,” Chinchar said. “He showed up for spring ball (in 2018), and it was, like, a no-brainer. ‘Yup, you have an offer from us.’ He got five offers in the first week.”

Bonhomme, good-natured off the field, was anything but on the field. If a scout-team receiver was assigned to try a crack-back block on Bonhomme, that receiver’s back was cracked. Chinchar would describe Bonhomme as a “drill sergeant” at practice, serious, focused, and merciless.

In his one season as a middle linebacker for Clearwater Academy, Bonhomme posted 100 tackles, including 22 for loss. He had eight sacks, three forced fumbles, and two blocked punts. He was just a playmaker.

“He’s such a good football player, you couldn’t even tell he hadn’t played the position,” Chinchar said. “Even if he was making a mistake, he was doing it at a million miles per hour.”

IU coach Tom Allen, who knew of Bonhomme as a Canadian prospect but wanted to see him facing stateside competition, was sold on him. Still, Bonhomme’s recruitment lagged from what Chinchar would have expected. It seems like he just arrived so late to the States, many colleges just missed him.

Chinchar remembers a day when Oregon, Auburn, and Ole Miss sent coaches to see another Canadian arrival, current Clemson receiver Ajou Ajou. There was a basketball hoop in Clearwater Academy’s weight room, and the Oregon coach wanted to see Ajou dunk.

Ajou windmilled it. Then Bonhomme took the ball.

“It turned into a dunk competition,” Chinchar said. “To see a linebacker that big getting up there, doing crazy dunks, all those schools saw that.”

One of those coaches was upset with whatever member of his staff had previously evaluated Bonhomme and not offered a scholarship, proclaiming, “This is the dumbest thing I’ve ever seen.”

“Are you kidding?” Chinchar recalled that coach saying. “It was school after school. ‘Wait a minute. This was the kid? Are you kidding me?'”

Their loss was IU’s gain. It just took time for the Hoosiers to find a place for Bonhomme on the field.

As a true freshman, IU burned Bonhomme’s chances at a redshirt, instead opting to play him almost exclusively on special teams. This past fall camp, after husky Marcelino Ball went down with a season-ending injury, the coaching staff flirted with playing Bonhomme in that hybrid safety-linebacker role, before switching him back to a true linebacker spot.

But an evolution in IU’s 4-2-5 scheme opened up another opportunity for Bonhomme. This season, the “bull” defensive end position has become more of an outside linebacker, positioned at the line of scrimmage in a two-point stance. It allows for more flexibility in the Hoosiers’ blitz schemes, because that player can rush the passer or drop back into coverage depending on the call.

While veteran ends Lance Bryant and Michael Ziemba received most of the early snaps at bull, the absence of Bryant in recent weeks has opened up playing time for Bonhomme, who flashed with four tackles versus Maryland, including that safety of Tagovailoa.

IU defensive coordinator Kane Wommack, who also coaches linebackers, didn’t want to lose Bonhomme in his rotation. But the sophomore was behind a foursome of Micah McFadden, Cam Jones, James Miller, and Aaron Casey. Shifting Bonhomme got another playmaker on the field.

“He’s got twitch. He’s got burst,” Wommack said. “He’s got a really good frame. He’s going to put even more good weight on this offseason. I just think that his ability to be very versatile, it’s a critical position for us.”

Wommack would like to find more players like Bonhomme, who can make plays out of that bull spot. How quickly Bonhomme has been able to adapt — from those wider fields in Canada, to the speed of Florida football, to this new position at IU — speaks to his athletic potential.

He’s just well-built. IU defensive end James Head Jr., speaking on how a 235-pound player like Bonhomme can make so many plays on the edge, immediately did his best body-builder impression.

“I don’t know if you guys ever seen D.K., but he like this,” said Head, who puffed his chest and shrugged his shoulders. “He’s big. He’s definitely up to the challenge. He’s got the speed. He’s got the physicality. He’s got moves. He’s going to adjust real well.”

As he adjusts, Bonhomme should flash more and more for an already dynamic defense.

One star teammate, IU corner Tiawan Mullen, was actually in Bonhomme’s ear before he darted in the end zone to tackle Tagovailoa.

“Do your job, man. I believe in you,” Bonhomme heard Mullen saying. “That’s what I did. I just did my job and made the play.”

Bonhomme saw it. He reacted. Then he went 0-to-60 and changed a game for the Hoosiers.

Chinchar, watching back in Florida, wasn’t surprised.

“He’s one of those freaky athletes. The more he plays, the more you’re going to see it,” Chinchar said. “He’s pretty damn athletic.”

13 comments

  1. Bonhomme showed in the safety play that he has the twitch and speed that the other players don’t have. It was good to see him change his direction so quick and get to the QB right away. As he improves and gets more experience it looks like IU has another special player on defense.

  2. Defense is the main reason that IU is 5-1. And yes Penix and offense is also the reason. However, this year IU defense has controlled games though they have gave up big plays at times…take aways remind me of past ND defenses when they weren’t quite able to stop opponents but often neutralized them with take aways which is a much better term for defenses than turn overs. Takeaways mean that defenses are aggressively trying to take ball from offense rather than waiting for turnovers. This is evident by this year’s IU defense. They are looking for takeaways, expect them and executing them. Just need to be smarter on run backs after pass interceptions. I can’t really remember a time when IU defensive secondary was so good catching the ball for pass interceptions. Usually past IU defenses couldn’t catch the ball that often to execute pass interceptions.

    1. I thought they looked like pijamas. It’s the thought that counts (honoring service members) I suppose.

      1. Camouflage helmets would have been delightful.

        Then again, that’s what most of us wished for during the long terrible history of IU Football. We were always hiding in the bush….Bob Knight was ‘The General’ in uniform. We were relevant to the tune of titles and banners when football remained in camo.

        True football camouflage would be a uniform made of AstroTurf. A great hit could send the “turf” to the “turf.”

        1. Boise State figured it out years ago. They’re ‘camouflaged’ for every game. Unwatchable football surface. I wrote their AD years ago explaining having a turf surface that was responsible for dozens of waterfowl breaking their necks trying to dive might be unique,…it’s also rinky-dink.

  3. I hope IU continues to find these hidden treasures. Young men like Bonhomme are why teams like IU can play well above their recruiting class rankings. I would not be surprised to see Bonhomme playing for an NFL team in three years.

  4. It’s interesting how some define these kids as gems playing above “recruiting class rankings”….but on the basketball side of the fence, Archie Miller is viewed as flawed by bringing in a similar wonderful mix of recruits exhibiting many of the same qualities/intangibles/court intelligence to complement some more coveted higher levels of talent.

    And Archie Miller is also bringing back the IU basketball program with the same essential aspects often severely overlooked in our football program: Team defense and fundamentals.

    It’s not just about finding hidden treasures. It’s about teaching and foundational skills. Recruits (even the blossoming latent star overlooked by “blue bloods,” “tradition-rich,” etc.) shouldn’t need cue card instruction by the time they arrive at a top college program.

  5. As a veteran I would be more happy for those uniforms to disappear but Adidas is the one designing the uniforms so I doubt they will disappear.

    H4H yes it is about teaching players about fundamentals but also getting the gem players that others don’t always see.

    PO, I agree that Bonhomme will play in the NFL, if he chooses, and keep getting better each year at IU.

    IU has several players that will get a shot at the NFL in the next few years and I hope the coaches keep bringing in players that can get that shot.

    1. Even though I see lots of camo being worn it just isn’t part of my wardrobe and I’m an outdoors rural guy. My personal view is IUFB needs to keep focusing on our base uniforms becoming the tradition helping to build the brand. No dilution and force fed.

  6. I’ve been very high on LB’s McFadden, Jones, Casey and Bonhomme. They are equally competent to the outstanding CB’s and S’s.

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