MOULTRIE – Ronald Bonner has been involved with football since he was a youngster growing up in Colquitt County, both as player and as a high school coach.
After an outstanding career with the Packers, he played at Georgia Military College for two years, at Jacksonville State for two years, had a cup of coffee with the Canadian Football League and played several years of arena football in Huntsville, Fla.
After his playing days were over, he began coaching at Washington County High School, where he is now the Golden Hawks offensive coordinator.
His senior season at Colquitt County, when the Packers won the program’s first state championship, is still a highlight in his long embrace of football.
“We were like brothers,” he said of the 1994 Packers who won all 15 games, including a 23-10 victory over Valdosta in the championship game at Mack Tharpe Stadium. “Our motto was to play all 15 games.
“We decided that year to go all-in.”
Colquitt had won five of its last six the previous season, losing on a cold night in Thomaston to Upson-Lee to end the season in the first round of the state playoffs.
There were high hopes for the 1994 Packers and for Bonner, although he caught just 17 passes as a junior.
Tony DeRosso had been the go-to receiver in 1993, catching 45 passes.
With DeRosso off to begin a professional baseball career, Bonner flourished as a senior becoming a favorite target of quarterbacks Clif Henry and Matt Parker.
“They gave me a chance and I ran with it,” Bonner said.
An apt choice of words.
Bonner caught 68 passes for 1,068 yards and nine touchdowns in 1994 and was a key component of the offense from the get-go.
“He might have been the best receiver in the state that year,” said Darrell Funderburk, the Packers offensive coordinator in 1994.
In the season-opening victory over Thomas County Central, he scored the Packers first touchdown of the year on a 58-yard pass from Parker.
Against Thomasville a week later, he caught a 27-yard touchdown pass from Parker and a 71-yard scoring toss from Henry.
His stat line from the win over the Bulldogs: eight catches for 156 yards and two scores.
Bonner had an even more productive evening later in the season against Tift County when he caught 10 passes for 166 yards and two touchdowns.
In perhaps his most memorable game, Bonner had just two pass receptions.
One of them changed the season.
It was against Bainbridge on the final Friday night in September.
Bonner had injured his knee while blocking on a punting drill in practice on the Wednesday before the game.
In the first half, he stood on the sidelines in shorts and a white Packers jersey bearing his familiar No. 14.
But the Colquitt offense stumbled in the first half and did not produce a score.
At halftime, Bonner told Packers coach Jim Hughes he wanted to play. Hughes consulted with team physician Dr. D.Q. Harris, who OK’d the young receiver to return to the game.
Bonner’s first catch in the second half netted 10 yards and is mostly forgotten.
The second was most certainly not.
Colquitt trailed 3-0 when a late 17-play drive against a fine Bainbridge defense took the Packers to the Bearcats 11 with 23 seconds remaining.
Henry lofted a pass to the end zone in the southeast corner of the field and Bonner pulled it in for the Packers only touchdown of the game.
The touchdown ended Bainbridge’s string of 15 straight scoreless quarters and gave the Packers a 7-3 victory.
Bonner finished his career with four catches for 61 yards in the championship game victory over Valdosta.
“He was tall and athletic and he ran well,” Funderburk said. “He had all the tools. He was the guy for us from the beginning of the season to end. If we hadn’t had him, we wouldn’t have been what we were in 1994.
“And he was as good a kid as we had in the program. A class act. I’m proud of what he’s done.”
Following his Colquitt County career, he spent two seasons at Georgia Military College. In his first season, his quarterback was Anthony Whitehead, who had played at Tift County.
At Jacksonville State, he had two outstanding seasons and still holds several school receiving records.
While a senior at Jacksonville State, he played host to a visiting high school quarterback the school was attempting to recruit.
The quarterback was Colquitt County’s Reggie Stancil, who himself went on to a fine career at Jacksonville State and is currently the head football coach at Peachtree Ridge High School.
While playing arena football in Huntsville, Ala., Bonner began working as a substitute teacher at Butler High School.
In 2003, he began his coaching career at Washington County and when Joel Ingram, his former Jacksonville State roommate, was named head coach in 2006, Bonner became the offensive coordinator.
In the 14 seasons that Ingram has been head coach and Bonner has been running the offense, the Golden Hawks have gone 116-45-1 and have won four region championships.
In 2014, while Colquitt County was defeating Archer to finish 15-0 and win the Class 6A state championship, Washington County was falling 27-20 to Calhoun in the Class 3A finals to finish 14-1.
Bonner also has served Washington County’s assistant boys basketball coach and continues to work with young children.
For several years, he taught kindergarten and now is teaching health at the primary school in Sandersville.
Washington County won its first three games of this season before falling to Swainsboro at home last Friday.
Bonner and the rest of the Golden Hawks staff are now working to get a win on Oct. 4 when the Golden Hawks play host to East Dublin in their Region 3-AA opener.