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Bonner Finds Best Arena for His Football Talents

Former Northridge quarterback is content playing for Arizona of Arena League instead of fulfilling NFL dreams.

August 05, 2000|JOHN ORTEGA | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Quarterback Kurt Warner realized the dream of many Arena Football League players last season when the former Iowa Barnstormer led the St. Louis Rams to the Super Bowl championship in his first year in the NFL.

But not every player in the Arena League is obsessed with making it in the NFL.

Take quarterback Sherdrick (pronounced Cedric) Bonner of the Arizona Rattlers.

Bonner, 31, is in his eighth season in the Arena League, but the former Cal State Northridge standout will consider his career a success even if he never plays a down in the NFL.

"At this point in my life, I feel definitely blessed to play in any professional league," he said. "It's not going to make or break my career if I do or don't play in the NFL. Right now, I just want to play ball, have fun and make my parents proud of me and my community proud of me."

Bonner, who passed for 3,533 yards during his career at Northridge from 1987-90, is approaching two Arena League milestones entering a quarterfinal playoff game today against the host Albany Firebirds.

The 6-foot-4, 245-pound left-hander is approaching the career record for postseason touchdown passes and needs nine yards to become the second player--Jay Gruden was the first--to pass for more than 3,000 yards in the playoffs.

However, winning is his top priority. An Arizona victory will avenge a 73-47 loss to Albany in the semifinals last year.

Arizona (13-2) defeated Albany, 59-35, earlier this season after holding the host Firebirds (9-5) scoreless in the first half. But Bonner says today's game is the one that counts.

"That meant absolutely nothing," Bonner said of the previous victory. "They're the defending champions and the class of the league until someone knocks them off."

Today's game features two of the league's top quarterbacks. Bonner has thrown for 3,718 yards and a team-record 77 touchdowns this season. Mike Pawlawski of Albany, a former California standout, has passed for 3,772 yards and 70 touchdowns.

Those statistics are not lost on Bonner, an Azusa High graduate who was working at the Mid Valley Athletic Club in Reseda and playing in a flag-football league in Brentwood in 1993 when his friend, George Mihalopoulos, told him he was going to a Rattler tryout.

Bonner knew little about the Arena League. But Mihalopoulos, a former tight end at the University of Arizona, got permission from Rattler management for Bonner to participate.

Bonner performed well enough in Phoenix to earn a second look at a combine at El Camino College in Torrance, where he signed a contract on the spot.

He spent his first season backing up Paul Justin, who then signed in the off-season with the Indianapolis Colts. Coach Danny White gave the starting job to Bonner, who made a smooth transition to the arena game, which consists of eight-man teams and is played on a field that is 50 yards long and 58-feet wide.

"He's big, he's accurate, but probably more than that, he's a guy you feel you can depend on," said White, a former Dallas Cowboy quarterback. "He's a great team leader on and off the field."

Bonner proved White right by leading the Rattlers to a 36-31 upset of Orlando in the 1994 Arena Bowl, the league's version of the Super Bowl.

Bonner was selected the game's most valuable player after passing for 267 yards and three touchdowns, including the game-winner on a 24-yard pass to Calvin Schexnayder with 31 seconds to play.

Bonner signed a free-agent contract with the Miami Dolphins in 1995 but was cut before training camp.

"That whole thing left a bitter taste in my mouth," he said. "I felt like they never gave me a chance."

Bonner returned to the Rattlers midway through that season but was second-string before starter Aaron Garcia was injured in the second-to-last game of the regular season.

Bonner set team records of 65 touchdown passes and 3,690 yards passing in 1996 before helping the Rattlers win their second league title in 1997.

Bonner, who set team records with 67 touchdowns and only six interceptions during the regular season, threw for four touchdowns and ran for another score in a playoff semifinal against the Tampa Bay Storm but suffered a broken left leg with 13:51 left in the fourth quarter.

"It was disappointing," Bonner said of the season-ending injury. "But it would have been a lot worse had we not advanced to the final. There would have been a sense of I let the guys down if that had happened."

Arizona, with rookie quarterback Donnie Davis directing the offense, defeated Iowa and Warner, 55-33, for the league title. Bonner came back to earn all-league honors in 1998 by setting team records with 451 completions and 70 touchdowns.

He was a member of the NFC champion Atlanta Falcons' practice squad at the end of the 1998-99 season, but the Falcons waived him last summer.

He played one game for the Rattlers--the loss to Albany--before doing brief NFL stints as third-string quarterback for the Arizona Cardinals and San Diego Chargers last season.

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