Deion Bonner: Derek Dooley defends decision to sign ex-UGA target

Derek Dooley defended his decision to sign Deion Bonner, who was one of the Southeast’s most highly-recruited cornerbacks before being arrested as part of UGA lockerroom theft of iPods and iPhones.

Before last April’s incident at UGA, the 5-foot-11, 185-pounder from Carver-Columbus High School had more than 30 early scholarship offers, including one from the Bulldogs. The majority of colleges backed off on Bonner, who was charged with one count of theft by taking. He has entered pre-trail intervention to have the misdemeanor charge dismissed.

Derek Dooley on (AP)

Derek Dooley on Deion Bonner: "... Part of character is not saying ‘I only want perfect people.’ We’re all flawed and we all make mistakes. The question is: Do you have the character to learn from it and get it right?” (AP photo)

Following the arrest, Bonner faced several penalties, including being suspended for the first five games of his senior season at Carver-Columbus.

It appeared that Bonner was headed to junior college, but he impressed several scouts with the way he responded to the adversity. Bonner signed with Tennessee over scholarship offers from Miami and Arkansas.

“We do a lot of diligence when we recruit, and we certainly recognize that there are no perfect players and we all make mistakes as young people,” Dooley told the AJC. “But what I saw was a player who had a clean record prior to the event [at UGA], and a player who was very honest and forthright with what happened.

“He’s a player who paid the piper about as hard as any high school player could ever pay for what he did … getting the suspensions that he did, the absolute public humiliation that he went through, the fact that everybody stopped recruiting him, and the community service hours … he did a heck of a lot of restitution for what he did, and still came out playing great football down the stretch.

“He kept a great attitude and a great outlook, and I saw someone who made a bad mistake and appears willing to learn from it and to let it make him a better person. So we were willing to take a chance on Deion. Part of character is not saying ‘I only want perfect people.’ We’re all flawed and we all make mistakes. The question is: Do you have the character to learn from it and get it right?”

If not for the UGA incident, Bonner might’ve been the No. 1-ranked cornerback in the state, even ahead of AJC Super 11 selections Josh Holsey (signed with Auburn), Jonathon Jones (Auburn) and Geno Smith (Alabama).

Carver-Columbus, alma mater of UGA RB Isaiah Crowell, posted a 12-2 record this past season. Bonner played in the final 9 games, finishing with five interceptions and 53 tackles, according to the Columbus Ledger-Enquirer.

Tennessee DB signee Deion Bonner of Carver-Columbus (Photo courtesy of 247sports.com)

Tennessee DB signee Deion Bonner of Carver-Columbus (Photo courtesy of 247sports.com)

Some were surprised that Dooley would pursue Bonner, considering the coach’s reputation as a strict disciplinarian. Dooley said Bonner is a welcome addition to Rocky Top but will be held to a higher code of conduct than other Tennessee players. The attorney-turned-coach explained it with a courtroom analogy.

“Well I don’t want to speak specifically for Deion but I will say it’s fair when you make mistakes in life, every time you make another mistake it’s not like that prior mistake didn’t happen,” Dooley said. “It’s no different than how we sentence and how we punish people in our criminal system. I mean, a guy who is a first-time offender is not going to get the same punishment as a guy who has done it three or four times. So, Deion knows he’s coming here with already a bad mistake under his belt. It will be a little different if somebody else makes a mistake, versus what he does. I think that’s human nature.”

What do I think? I’m a big believer of second, third, fourth, eighth, etc. chances. I’m glad somebody was willing to give Deion another chance and, on behalf of many, wish him the best in representing the state of Georgia.

RELATED: Junior college DB Steven Nelson committed to UGA over Houston and Middle Tennessee State. Nelson starred at Northside-Warner Robins High School. He is commitment No. 6 for UGA’s 2013 class (click on story link)

– By Michael Carvell, AJC Recruiting Blog

Got an item? mcarvell@ajc.com

Got an item? mcarvell@ajc.com

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