- Associated Press - Tuesday, August 15, 2017

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) - Reggie Bonnafon didn’t complain when an eventual Heisman Trophy winner supplanted him at quarterback, and he hasn’t looked back on what might have been.

He has focused on succeeding wherever Louisville coaches placed him and has remained optimistic while seesawing between being running back and wide receiver the past two seasons.

“Any opportunity I’m blessed to have and the coaches trust me with, I don’t take it lightly,” said Bonnafon, who caught 13 passes for 159 yards and five touchdown passes from Jackson during his amazing run to the Heisman last fall.

He added, “I try to give the best that I have.”

The process continues for the versatile Cardinals senior, whom coach Bobby Petrino said he regrets not using more often in 2016. Getting touches won’t be an issue this fall as Bonnafon transitions to full-time duty in the backfield.

Seeing an obvious need last spring when injuries thinned the Cardinals’ backfield corps, the Louisville native took some snaps in a scrimmage and discovered his best skill might be carrying the ball. Petrino agreed and has placed him atop the depth chart, looking forward to utilizing Bonnafon more at a position that seems to suit him well.

“He played wide receiver most of his life growing up, so that was an easy thing for him to transition to playing another position,” Petrino said of Bonnafon on media day. “But he looks a lot more natural running the ball. He’s seeing it, he’s making the cuts. I’m anxious to see how he does.”

Despite his current status as the featured back, the 6-foot-3, 212-pound Bonnafon is being pressed by fellow seniors Jeremy Smith and Malik Williams. They also face a big task of replacing the durable Brandon Radcliff in an offense that averaged nearly 533 yards per game in 2016 behind Jackson’s arm and feet.

With opponents keying on Jackson again this season, the Cardinals need someone to take some of the load off him and create balance. Already considered one of Louisville’s fastest players, coaches believe Bonnafon is also strong enough to bull through the middle.

Running backs coach Kolby Smith is stressing on getting Bonnafon to run lower to the ground and gain more leverage.

“One of his goals is running with more power,” Smith said. “Once he gets on the edge, he can take it to the house. But in between the tackles, he has to run with great pad level and with power and strength.”

Each position switch has resulted in a bulkier Bonnafon, who looks nothing like the slender, mobile freshman that started five of 10 games.

Those muscles will come in handy for the pounding Bonnafon faces as a rusher. On the other hand it’s nothing he hasn’t seen after combining for 1,028 yards rushing on 117 carries his first two years.

While Petrino probably would have found more plays for Bonnafon had he remained a wideout, the player’s perseverance through changes on and off the field is perhaps his most impressive trait.

His father, Wallace, passed away during his freshman season. Bonnafon also endured QB battles that year with Will Gardner and Kyle Bolin (who has transferred to Rutgers) but started the 2015 opener against Auburn. Jackson relieved him in the second half of that loss, and the rest is history.

Bonnafon’s upbeat attitude through everything is why he’s one of several team captains as he prepares for his latest role - just because Louisville needed him there.

“I’ve dealt with much worse things than changing positions on the football field,” said Bonnafon, who relied on his faith and family to get through the tough times.

“This was a good opportunity to have a bigger role and workload in the offense, and I have high expectations for my senior year. I looked at (running back) as a good opportunity to challenge myself, and so far it’s paying off.”


More AP college football: collegefootball.ap.org

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