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UCLA's Bonds Loses Job but Not Face : College football: Former Hart quarterback handles demotion with dignity and in doing so earns a large measure of respect.

November 15, 1990|BRENDAN HEALEY | TIMES STAFF WRITER

It was the Monday after the UCLA football team's first victory of the season, but when Coach Terry Donahue gathered his players for a meeting he had more than winning on his mind.

"I mentioned to the team that I'd been at UCLA a long time, and I didn't know many athletes who've been as selfless as Jim Bonds," Donahue said of his talk after a 32-31 victory over Stanford.

Bonds, who graduated from Hart High in 1987, was benched with UCLA trailing Stanford, 14-7. Tommy Maddox took over after halftime and led the Bruins to victory. Rather than hang his head after the game, Bonds was hanging out, celebrating the victory with teammates in the locker room.

"It must have been tough," Donahue said. "I thought to myself at that time, 'Boy, I really admire the guy. . . .' I didn't know if I could do it myself."

Bonds might have lost a job, but he has gained respect for the way he handled a very public and trying demotion, particularly in light of the way Bret Johnson mishandled a similar situation. Petulance is not in Bonds' makeup. No stoic, he is a friendly guy who simply declines to whine.

This has been a season of Alpine highs and lows for Bonds. In preseason camp, he was named the starter, which precipitated Johnson's decision to transfer to Michigan State.

"I was really shocked when Bret left. I had never expected that when I dreamed of being named the starting quarterback," said Bonds, a redshirt junior. "The competition got pretty fierce between the two of us. I didn't think he handled it like it should have been handled. For whatever reason, we didn't get along as good as we could have."

Two games into the season, Bonds lost the position. A few weeks later he watched in frustration as blood spurted from a broken finger he suffered while trying to catch a pass in practice, a painful, embarrassing injury.

As Maddox's stock rose, Bonds dropped out of the lineup. After his Stanford heroics, Maddox started the next game, at Michigan, and has started since.

When Maddox was named first team, "They didn't have to tell me, I knew," Bonds said.

He hit his nadir when he was pulled from the Stanford game, and his family, watching in the stands, suffered along with him during that long, hot day.

Jim has turned to his brother Tom and father for support. Jim talks to Tom, a former Cal Lutheran quarterback and now a stockbroker in Glendale, nearly every day. Tom occasionally visits Westwood to take his kid brother out to dinner.

"We're so close it hurts me probably as much as it hurts him," said Tom, two years older than the 21-year-old Jim. "I had adversity at Cal Lutheran too, but nothing is as devastating as what he had to go through."

The numbers from the Stanford game were grim: two completions in eight attempts for 15 yards. Bonds has not played a down since that game. Although he is healthy now, unless something happens to Maddox, Bonds is not likely to play in the season finale Saturday against USC.

"It was my second start and I hadn't done anything. I knew that could be the last start I'd make," Bonds said. He added that losing his position was not the most disappointing aspect of the situation. "It's just that I couldn't perform to my expectations."

It was the end of the world as he knew it, but he feels fine.

"I'm having a lot of fun right now," said Bonds, who said he does not regret his decision to attend UCLA. "I've got next year and hopefully I'll get another shot to prove that I can play at this level."

That's right, there will be a next year at UCLA. Bonds is not planning to transfer. The thought crossed his mind for about half a day when Johnson was named the starter two seasons ago. Although Bonds is in his fourth year and probably could graduate after summer school, he intends to stay for his final year of eligibility.

"I don't know if I've ever been around an athlete who has been more team-oriented and more willing to accept the role designated to him than Jim Bonds has been," Donahue said.

Bonds was valued for his strong arm, his ability to throw a pass like a frozen rope, but in the first two games he was wishing he could attach a string to the ball and pull it back.

Bond's debut as a starter came in a 34-14 loss to Oklahoma. His eight-for-14 passing performance included two interceptions and no touchdowns.

"It wasn't easy," Bonds said of his baptism against Oklahoma. "Beggars can't be choosers. I was happy to get the starting job, and I was going to go out and do what I could."

As Bonds notes, he could not go to Donahue and say: Let's wait till that San Diego State game. "You can't choose when you're going to play," he said.

At this point, Bonds probably has more power to hurt the team than help the team. A sulking quarterback can be a cancerous presence on a football squad.

"It's just a great relief not to have (tension)," Maddox said. "We have a great relationship. We always have. Now that I'm starting we get along even better."

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