COLUMBIA — Donovan Bonner is an only child. Like the other freshmen on the Missouri football team, the linebacker from Dallas was assigned a big brother when he arrived on campus in June.
Bonner was paired with senior captain Sean Weatherspoon, who was a natural choice for the job. Not only is he a senior captain, he is a starter at Bonner’s position, outside linebacker. The paired lived together over the summer to help Bonner get adjusted.
“We were just having fun, like any other people would do, any brother, blood brother,” Bonner said.
Weatherspoon said Bonner reminded him of a younger version of himself.
“He’s kind of like me when I came in, that’s probably why they put us together,” Weatherspoon said. “He’s a kid coming in, not highly recruited that much, he was coming in, he’s hungry, he’s ready to work. So I guess that’s why they put him with me, so I could kind of get him going the way they got me going.”
When Weatherspoon was a freshman, his big brother was former MU linebacker Dedrick Harrington, so the situation was familiar to him.
“We’d go into the room and Donovan would be asking me, ‘Spoon, what do you do on this? What do you do on that?’” Weatherspoon said. “That’s kind of how I was my freshman year, so it kind of brought back a lot of memories and made me feel good.”
The coaching staff also noticed a similarity between Bonner and Weatherspoon.
“A very physical guy, a very talented guy, athletically very similar to Spoon as a freshman,” coach Gary Pinkel said. “And that’s a big statement. So, you’ve got to watch yourself when you make statements like that. And I generally don’t like comparing people either. We knew, when we recruited him, that’s who he reminded us of, athletically.”
While Bonner said he had fun living with Weatherspoon, the summer wasn’t all about fun and games. He spent much of his time asking Weatherspoon questions about football and the team’s system.
“He just seems like a guy who’s eager to learn,” Weatherspoon said. “He wants to come in and play, that’s his goal.”
Bonner had played safety in high school and his earlier football career, so he had to ask Weatherspoon extra questions to learn the linebacker position.
“I had a lot of questions,” Bonner said. “Just about gaps and holes, how it is to be a linebacker. I knew a little bit about it, but I never played it.”
Because he is a true freshman, Bonner began preseason practice at the bottom of the depth chart for his position. He didn’t stay there, though, moving up to the second team.
“He’s adjusted to the system well,” Weatherspoon said. “He has a great physique and stuff like that. So, he can shed the blockers, come downhill. He’s just learning, day by day, but I think when it’s all said and done, he’ll be a player that a lot of people will be talking about.”
While Weatherspoon said he has seen good progress from Bonner on the field, he said one thing is missing from Bonner’s preparation.
“He doesn’t get it yet that we’re going to be in front of 70, 80,000 people,” Weatherspoon said. “You can’t really talk about that until you see it for yourself. But I think he’s pretty much prepared for what’s coming.”