Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Bonner Carries Valdosta's Burden

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Bonner Carries Valdosta's Burden

Article excerpt

Dustin "Dusty" Bonner is carrying a heavy load. He has been all

year.

But he's used to it. The blond 18-year-old has been the

starting quarterback for Valdosta High School for two years.

Saturday night, the Wildcats will be trying to add another page

to their history as the nation's premier high school football

program when they host Brookwood from Snellville in the Georgia

Class AAAA state championship game.

If the Wildcats win, it will be their 23rd state title since

1940 and will cement their position as one of the top 10 prep

teams in the nation in the USA Today rankings.

But that's not even close to being the only burden Bonner is

carrying on his 6-foot-2, 205-pound frame.

Since last May, the youngster and his teammates have been

dealing with the sudden death of their beloved coach and

teacher, veteran Wildcat coach Nick Hyder.

"It really hit the team hard and it really hit me hard," Bonner

said. "Him being the coach and me being the quarterback, we had

a real close relationship. At first I didn't believe it. Then it

kind of hits you."

The Wildcats have been wearing small decals with "NH" --

Hyder's initials -- on the backs of their helmets all year, but

Bonner said there's a far more compelling reminder of the late

coach than that.

"You always know he's watching," Bonner said. "Whether you're

doing sprints or what, you can't let up because you know he's

watching. I don't want to take anything away from Coach [Mike]

O'Brien [Hyder's successor]. I think everybody always wants to

perform the best they can, but he [Hyder] is always in the back

of your mind."

Bonner, and the entire team, got a slow start this season,

winning, but struggling. And it looked like the Wildcats' season

might have been over on Oct. 18, when they lost their fifth game

in a row to archrival Colquitt County, 17-7. …

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