On the move: Bonner adjusting to speed of NFL with Texans
Alan Bonner's not the type of football player prone to straying off course. So don't expect him to start now now as an NFL rookie.
It's just another adjustment for the one-time Newnan High All-State receiver. Nearly five years after helping the Cougars reach the GHSA state football semifinals, Bonner and Alec Ogletree expect to add to Coweta's growing list of athletes who have moved on to careers in pro football this fall.
Fresh off last week's NFL Rookie Symposium in Cleveland, Bonner has taken the first months of his NFL career since being selected in the sixth round by the Houston Texans in stride.
"It was just a good learning experience," said Bonner of the symposium, which featured current and former pros expressing some of the potential pitfalls that come with being a professional athlete. This year's symposium took place in the midst of murder charges against former Patriots tight end Aaron Hernandez.
Ogletree, a first-round pick of the St. Louis Rams, joined NFC rookies late last week after Bonner and the AFC rookies went through their three-day symposium, mandatory for all rookies with more than 20 educational sessions on the schedule. No texting or tweeting is allowed and there's a set curfew of 11:30 p.m., by the league.
"A lot of it was getting us in the right direction for the future. Some of them had strong inspirational speeches," said Bonner. "They were just trying to reach out to us about a lot of things that they had experienced."
On the field, Bonner has made as much an impression as any of Houston's nine draft picks, four of which came in the sixth round. He was one of two receivers added in the draft, joining first-round selection DeAndre Hopkins of Clemson.
Multiple reports have Houston head coach Gary Kubiak enamored with Bonner as a late-round pick, touting him as a potential sleeper of the team's draft class.
Successful transitions are nothing new, however, to the 5-10, 193-pounder, who became the third wide receiver from Newnan High to join an NFL roster and the second to be drafted while following the late Drew Hill, a 12th-round pick in 1979.
Bonner's hard work has equally set himself up with the potential for a long NFL career much like Hill, who played for three teams including the Falcons over 14 consecutive seasons.
"I just loved watching this guy work in Indianapolis (at the NFL Scouting Combine), his confidence," Kubiak told the Houston Chronicle of Bonner. "I think there's a big upside here. There's a big step for him to take from where he's coming from, but he's gonna get a great opportunity with us. We're so young at wide receiver, there's gonna be plenty of reps to go around, and I think this kid's got some special stuff to him. We'll just sit there and work with him, but I think he's got a chance to help our football team."
So far, the biggest adjustment for Bonner are the same felt by most rookies — ones that includes getting acclimated to the speed of the game and sharing the field with some of the best athletes in the world.
"The biggest thing has been picking up to the pace. It's just a faster pace in college," Bonner said. "I college, you have two or three guys that stand out. In the NFL, everybody's good. Everybody's quick."
As a varsity player at Newnan High, Bonner made a seemless adjustment from playing quarterback to become an All-State wide receiver, catching passes from longtime friend and future Jacksonville University basketball point guard Russell Powell.
Even when Division I football schools failed to show interest, Bonner made them take notice anyway, playing immediately at Jacksonville State. During four seasons as a top contributor, Bonner again made the most of opportunities in big-game situations, fielding punts against Florida State as a freshman and catching two touchdowns in an upset win over Ole Miss the following year.
By the time he concluded a 50-catch season as a senior, the most of his college career, Bonner had etched his name into school record books for punt and kick return yards.
Special teams may give Bonner another chance to shine with the Texans, who have plenty of positives to provide a rookie wide receiver.
"I'm coming into a good situation. I've got a Pro Bowl quarterback and a Pro-Bowl receiver as teammates," Bonner said of Texans QB Matt Schaub and WR Andre Johnson. "Punt returns, they seem to like me there. I'll be ready to compete for the job."
Another adjustment, meanwhile, may take a little longer for Bonner, who's back home and training locally at a facility in Marietta after getting things settled in Houston. An usually rainy summer in Georgia isn't helping.
"I'm still getting used to the heat," he said of Texas. "I was talking with Andre Johnson and he said it doesn't matter where you're from, and he's from Florida. Your body has to adjust to it."