SPRINGFIELD – Springfield football coach Ryan Serpas may have summed up senior Noah Bonura’s role on this year’s team in terms that a lot of fans of the game can understand.
“He’s no Taysom Hill, but he can definitely do a lot of different things for us,” Serpas said of the Saints' versatile star. "He does a great job of accepting whatever role we ask him to play.”
That’s exactly what Bonura’s done this season, and it was on full display in the Bulldogs’ home loss to Pearl River last week.
The team didn’t have offensive linemen Jaden Conley and Conner McKinney last week with concussions, and guard Hunter Hue was ejected from the game, necessitating a shuffling of the Bulldogs’ offensive line.
That meant Bonura, who was wearing No. 5 as the team’s H-back, had to make a move back to center, a position he played every game last season. With that came a trip to the Bulldogs’ field house to get into his No. 53 jersey – while the game was still going on.
“In my years of playing football, I’ve never seen that happen,” Bonura said.
Bonura, who last played center during the Bulldogs’ jamboree contest against Independence, settled in almost as a calming force amid some in-game chaos.
“It was weird because I haven’t center reps since I played (against) Independence,” Bonura said, who played two series at H-back against Pearl River before moving to center. “I went out there and I was just calling out the plays just like I normally do, helping out (quarterback) RJ (Serpas), getting the word out. It just went straight back from me playing H-back worrying about the passing game and my job back to leading the O-line again and making sure everyone knows what they’re doing.”
It’s the type of effort Bulldogs’ coach Ryan Serpas has come to expect from Bonura.
“Even though he doesn’t get those reps at practice, he’s a kid who’s smart enough to get in there and get the job done without all those practice reps because he understands the offense and what we’re trying to do,” Serpas said. "It’s good to have kids like him around – good kids who understand and do what they’re asked to do. Playing line is not one of the most glorious jobs in the world. You’ve got to be a special type of person to do that, and the linemen never get the credit that they deserve.”
The status of Hue, who has stitches in his hand, McKinney and Conley, is up in the air heading into Friday’s 7 p.m. home game against North Central, meaning Bonura could end up shifting to center again, something he’s prepared to do if need be.
Bonura’s shift from center to H-back started taking shape as the Bulldogs’ began working on installing a new offensive scheme. Serpas said Bonura’s work ethic at center stood out and was one factor in his position change.
“You try to identify who are my best 11 kids and try to get them on the field,” Serpas said. “I just thought that last year, he was a kid that I knew was always going to work. He was always going to show up, and he was going to try his best. He might not be able to get the job done every time, but you were going to get effort out of him, so that’s why I kind of put him in that position as a center …”
Bonura brought that same attitude to playing H-back, even though he admits it took him some time to adjust to his new role while going through 7-on-7 drills over the summer.
“It was a lot different because I’ve played line my whole life and all these skill players have played skill positions their whole life, so they’re seeing the starting center come out here and think he can catch a ball, so of course people are going to make fun of me or people are going to doubt me at first, but slowly, I started catching the ball at lot more,” Bonura said. “I started getting more reps, and it’s gotten to the point where the guys just were like, ‘alright, he’s there and we can rely on him’, because at first, it was a lot of doubt. It was a big step for everyone, not just me.
“It was different going at it, but I had a lot more fun with it,” Bonura continued. “I guess it kind of sparked a new thing in me for football because it was like something new, something different that I get to do.”
Bonura’s development at H-back, along with the fact the Bulldogs returned a veteran offensive line, solidified a move which Bonura completely understood.
“It just got to the point where I guess he (Ryan Serpas) was giving me those reps and he saw no one else was stepping up to the plate and no one else could do it (a H-back), and we’ve got a very strong O-line this year, and it wasn’t a problem filling in my gap,” Bonura said. “It wasn’t a problem putting an almost 300-pound man (new center Austyn Wallace) in place of a 185-pound dude.”
Ryan Serpas said Bonura is still an integral part of the Bulldogs’ blocking schemes – just in a different way.
“Playing H-back and playing the center, especially with what we’re doing, we’re asking him to do a lot of blocking still, so he’s still a vital part of our run game. It’s one of those things where he got to change his number, and every now and then, he gets to run out for a pass,” Ryan Serpas chuckled. “That’s the major difference in what we were asking him to do last year and asking him to do this year. He gets to be a little bit more active and every now and then gets to run down field a little bit. He’s not going to blow past people. He’s not exactly the fastest guy in the world, but if I tell him to run to a spot, he’s going to run to that spot. He’s just a kid that you can trust to put in a position to get the job done.”
As quickly as Bonura began to settle in at his new position, he was summoned back to center when the team had some exchange issues during its walkthrough practice for the jamboree game against Independence. It was also the week RJ Serpas took over as the team’s starting quarterback when Bryan Babb, who took all of the team’s first-team reps over the summer, transferred to another school.
“I don’t know why, but I guess all the plays clicked back to me, and I went out there and I did my best with it. I went back, I dug out my old 53 jersey and threw him on and it felt good,” Bonura said. “Yeah, I was going to miss playing H-back, especially in the jamboree. I felt like I really could have done something there, but it was OK. That’s where my team needed me.”
Bonura said his move back to center for the jamboree was easier because of the familiarity he and his offensive line mates have with one another.
“It’s just over the years, playing (center) over and over again and working with these guys since middle school coming up and now it’s our senior year,” Bonura said. “It’s us, the same people from middle school, and we’re on the O-line again, and it’s like they knew me from middle school playing center taking charge. When I walk on the field at center, people know that I’m going to make sure the huddle’s right. I’m going to make sure everyone knows what they’re doing no matter what position you play. You have to change your mindset. I really respect the guys that want to be there who actually are willing to listen to a peer like me. That shows respect for me. That gives me respect for them. It’s a mutual respect thing. It’s nothing to do with bragging. It’s really just we have confidence, and I like that they have confidence in me if I have to go in at center last-second.”
If playing H-back and center weren’t enough for Bonura, he’s also the Bulldogs’ long snapper, something he’s worked at since his freshman year under the wing of former Bulldog Reeves Blankenship, who is now at Louisiana Tech.
“I’ve been just wanting to get better and better. I’ve gone to a few camps,” Bonura said of his long snapping while noting he took second place at a camp at Louisiana-Lafayette over the summer. “Every time he (Blankenship) comes down, I train with him, and I’m getting better.”
Ryan Serpas said Bonura’s work as a deep snapper could help him play college football.
“Honestly, that’s where Noah really excels at, and I think that if he’s going to play football at the next level, it’s going to be there, so it’s not necessarily going to be at center or at H-back,” Serpas said. “He’s done a good job with it. He wants more than just deep snapping. That’s where he’s getting those opportunities at.”
Like he’s done with his transition to H-back, Bonura said he prefers to stay under the radar.
“A lot of people are like, ‘Man, I heard my name on the intercom’, and as a long snapper, if you hear your name on the intercom, that’s a bad thing,” Bonura said. “You never want to hear your name as a long snapper, because that means you’ve messed up a bad snap, because no one says (it was) a good snap for a long snapper. That’s what a long snapper is. He’s just and unspoken hero. No one talks about him, but it’s a necessary point in the game.”
At the end of the day, Bonura said all of his moving around is done while keeping the best interests of the team in mind.
“(Coach Serpas) knows that I’m not the most athletic person in the world,” Bonura said. “I’m not the biggest star or whatever, but I know that he’s got my back, and I’ve got his no matter what he needs me for, and I’m going to do what’s best for the team and not really for myself. I know that’s what they’ve been preaching a lot – it’s not a selfish football game. In order to win games, you’ve got to be a team, and I hope that me doing what I’m doing is helping the other players realize that.”