BLOOMINGTON — 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 9 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 football coach Tom Allen takes a chance
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.
D.K. Bonhomme is big
He’s just well-built. IU defensive end James Head Jr., speaking about how a 235-pound player such as 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.”