The rain poured and the wind gusted as Texas led Kansas State 16-6 early in the third quarter on Oct. 24, 2015. The Wildcats rode a rainy wave of momentum, scoring a touchdown just before halftime to dig into the Longhorns’ lead.
The Wildcats snapped the ball on third and long on their first possession of the second half. Then redshirt freshman cornerback John Bonney didn’t retreat into coverage. Instead, he darted toward quarterback Joe Hubener. Bonney’s rush went unimpeded, and the cornerback sacked the Hubener for a loss of eight yards.
One year later, Bonney’s stock has never been higher as a Longhorn. His playing time has increased steadily all season, and he started against Iowa State last week. He made the most of it, racking up six solo tackles.
“That’s probably the best I’ve seen him tackle,” head coach Charlie Strong said. “I think one time there was like a 2nd and 3 and he goes up and makes the tackle and the guy only gets one yard.”
Bonney doesn’t always hit the field with Texas’ first team defense. Though he started at cornerback six times in 2015, he had yet to see the field on the Longhorns’ opening defensive possession until this past Saturday. But that doesn’t stop Bonney from acting like a weekly starter.
“I’ve definitely taken it one week at a time,” Bonney said. “Coach Bedford always tells every player, ‘Prepare as if you were a starter because you never know when your number is going to be called,’ and that’s something I’ve taken into account every week this season. I felt like I did well this week because of just keeping that in the back of my mind.”
The Texas secondary has endured a myriad of problems this season, leading to its 112th national ranking in pass defense. The Longhorns give up 278.5 passing yards per game.
Bonney’s fellow cornerback, sophomore Kris Boyd, has been a staple at the position for Texas this season, for better or worse. He’s had his fair share of vicious hits, but also a collection of head-scratching blunders.
Boyd’s inconsistency gave way to Bonney’s insertion into the lineup this past week, but senior safety Dylan Haines said both young defensive backs impressed him with their play.
“They just have to keep that going,” Haines said. “Now they’ve got to know that one bad thing can happen in one game and one good thing can happen. It can go like that if you don’t keep preparing the way you have been.”
Bonney and Boyd played well at home against Iowa State, but taking that same level of motivation and consistency on the road has been anything but smooth sailing for the Longhorn defense. Texas gives up an average of 48 points per game when playing away from home this season.
Twenty-two of Bonney’s 36 career tackles — 61.1 percent — have occurred on the home turf of Darrell K Royal—Texas Memorial Stadium. Bonney knows just how hard it is to play well on the road, but he said he’d do whatever it takes to get it done.
“I feel like our coaches are going to be hard on us this week about playing great defense on the road,” Bonney said. “Because that’s definitely something you need because you’re going into somebody else’s house and trying to beat them, and to do that, you have to play really good defense, and we have to prepare really well this week to do that.”