Play Mathis And Bonahoom October 4, 2012
I’ve never been a “booooo Smith put in Jones” guy. I have my opinions about which players I’d like to see in the rotation, but I’ve never thought this to be a place to advocate for benchings. I mean, I probably would have if this blog existed in 2004 (MORE THOMAS LESS HALSEY), but in the 3.5 years this website has been around, I’ve never really played that game.
I’d like to play that game now, please. Give me walkons.
The genesis for this post started with a Bruce Feldman tweet on Tuesday, noting that the #1 passer in the Big Ten right now (Matt McGloin of Penn State), the #1 receiver in the Big Ten (Jared Abbrederis of Wisconsin), and the #3 rusher in the Big Ten (Mark Weisman of Iowa) all arrived at their schools as walkons. I responded to that tweet by saying “when do we get one”? And then I realized that we have a few walkons that I think are ready.
This season gets a D so far. The only thing preventing an F was the opening win over Western Michigan. We haven’t been anywhere close in our three losses. Only the second quarter against Louisiana Tech could even be considered competitive. And the Charleston Southern game doesn’t count. (By the way, Charleston Southern’s losing streak is over. They beat Shorter University, a school that just made the jump this year from NAIA to Division II. And Charleston Southern only won 23-20. At home. Against an school transitioning from NAIA. They’re the worst team we’ll face in the next 50 years.)
So with a season that far south, and trips to Wisconsin and Michigan on the immediate schedule, things look dire. Yes, there have been injuries – this is the most injured team I can remember in the last 25 years. But we still have 82 scholarship players on the roster, so even with our 10-12 injured players we still have lots of D-I talent that is not getting the job done. Which is why I’m breaking my rule. I’m playing the “take out Smith and put in Jones” game. I want to see Ben Mathis and Peter Bonahoom on Saturday.
If you’ve read this blog in the last few years, you know about them. Mathis is the walkon safety who never misses a tackle. Bonahoom is the walkon wide receiver who goes just as hard or harder than all of the other receivers in practice (in my view). If I was a college football coach, and my sideline was dead after Penn State jumped out to a big lead, I would for damn sure reach for my top walkons and freshmen. I’m not saying to play them all – redshirts need to be maintained, and experienced starters still need to be on the field. I’m saying I’d shake things up with two walkons who bust their butt every single day I’ve watched them practice.
I’ve been a Ben Mathis fan since either Rantoul 2010 or spring ball 2011. You’ve probably heard his name here a dozen times. I’m consistently impressed by his reads and his tackling ability. Sure, he doesn’t have over-the-top athleticism – if he did he would have had dozens of D-1 offers. But the kid can play disciplined, hard-nosed football. I wish our defensive staff would call Coach Gillhamer (last year’s secondary coach who is the Colts secondary coach this year). I guarantee Gillhamer would tell them that Mathis can play in this league.
I became a Peter Bonahoom fan last year in Rantoul. I’m always impressed when players go hard in practice. And when they do that while paying for the right to be there, I’m even more impressed. College football is a year-round job. So much work, so much time in the weight room. To see a player give his all without any scholarship benefits always inspires me. I’m the guy who thought it was hard to drag himself out of bed for 9:00 Silly Civ lecture – I can’t imagine getting up at 5:45 for February weight training. Especially when you’re basically doing it as a volunteer (while your teammates get their tuition paid).
So to see Bonahoom go just as hard or harder in practice than some of the scholarship receivers makes me a fan. And to see him go over the middle in practice and catch the tough pass that others shy away from tells me he can play. During the spring game this year, when they were going around the press box asking for players people wanted to interview after the game, I asked for Bonahoom. Which led to this interview.
Again, I’m not advocating for fifty plays from each guy. Just like all college football players, there’s a speed-of-the-game transition that must take place. We’d have to bring them along slowly. But on Saturday, this team was begging for a play that would wake up the sideline. A big third down catch over the middle where the receiver hangs onto the ball after getting leveled. A tight end one-on-one in the flat with only a safety preventing a first down, and then an ankle tackle that drops him for no gain. And I think our sideline would go insane if it was one of the walkons who made one of those plays.
So give me Mathis and Bonahoom for a few series. Give me some spark. We’re 2-3 and staring 2-5 right in the face. Our sideline looked motionless in the second half on Saturday. Our coaches seem distraught in interviews. There’s a dark, dirt cloud hanging over Illini football these days, and I want it lifted. We already have a deep player rotation, so adding two more won’t change much. Give me some spark.
Give me walkons.