LEDGER – Kickers are a different breed of people.
Travise Pitman has come to know this first as a football player and now coach at Mitchell. But forget about the everyday kind of idiosyncrasies, no kicker is quite like Mountaineers sophomore Ben Bonner.
“His dad (Randy) is a preacher and our team chaplain. He likes to say that ‘Ben is my little miracle out there,’” Pitman said.
“I know he keeps me going. It’s inspiring to see someone face all the things that Ben does and then go out there and kick the ball for us.”
Bonner made 70 of his 84 extra-point attempts this fall for the 1-AA Western Regional champion Mountaineers (14-2). His only field-goal attempt (23 yards) was a kick that decided a 17-14 win at previously unbeaten East Wilkes in the third round of the NCHSAA playoffs.
Pitman was hesitant to publicly talk about his kicker’s health during the greatest season in school history. Pitman didn’t want to make Bonner a target for any opposing team.
The 5-foot-7, 128-pound underclassman was born with congenital heart defects and put on high-blood pressure medicine when he was just seven months old. His aorta does not distribute as much blood to one side of his body as it does to the other.
Not only that, Bonner was diagnosed with a condition in elementary school that required brain surgery.
He cannot take any blows to the head or chest, even in a full-contact sport. And Bonner’s doctors will not permit him to lift weights as it requires too much strain.
“Every time I see Ben run on the field, I see a symbol of God’s grace,” said Randy Bonner, whose congregation is the Western Carolina Church in Spruce Pine. “Ben is self-taught (with kicking). None of us really knew he would keep improving and make field goals under pressure.”
Bonner, 15, used to play soccer, and first kicked a football in the sixth grade. He took up football again shortly before his freshman year. The 23-yard field goal is the longest that Bonner has made in a game, but he is capable of more – Bonner said he split the uprights from 45 yards out prior to Mitchell’s Oct. 8 game at Polk County.
Bonner has explicit instructions from Pitman to run to the sidelines if a kick is blocked or there is a scrum for the ball.
Senior Jade Osbon and juniors Todd Self and Justin Greene took turns handling kickoffs for Mitchell and the main punter was senior Tre Carson.
The Mountaineers’ previous school record for wins was 12 and they had never appeared in a football state championship game – Mitchell lost to Wallace-Rose Hill, 48-28, on Dec. 12 in Winston-Salem.
“It was so terrific to be part of the first team to make it to a state championship,” Bonner said.
“This was my first full year (at the varsity level). Our team was really close and we had a lot of fun.”
Bonner likes to hike and fish in his free time. Bonner’s mother, Michelle, said her son has a stress test performed on his heart each year.
“I miss being able to do some of the things that other (teenagers) can, but I’m used to it,” Bonner said.
“I would like to lift weights during football season with my teammates, but it’s something I have to live with and that’s OK.”
At the midway point of his varsity football career, Bonner has scored 81 points in two years.
“Ben continually says I wouldn’t have been able to do that without my teammates,” Michelle Bonner said.
“We’re very proud of him for that.”
Pitman tied for third in voting for The Associated Press state coach of the year this past week. Looking back, he is deeply appreciative of what Bonner and the rest of the Mountaineers were able to accomplish.
“It was sort of like a dream and we were just riding it,” Pitman said.
“You talk to other coaches and 90 percent of them never get to experience something like that. Hopefully we will go back, I would like to back to a state championship game. But it’s something special and ultimately was a great experience for our kids and our community.”