Illinois RB Ra’Von Bonner opts out of 2020 season over COVID-19 concerns

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Now we know a little bit more of the rest of the story when it comes to one member of the Illinois football team.

Monday, we noted that a pair of Illinois football players, running back Ra’Von Bonner and offensive lineman Jake Cerny, will not play for the Fighting Illini this season because of what was described as personal reasons.  According to Shannon Ryan of the Chicago Tribune, Bonner’s personal reason involves the coronavirus on a pair of fronts.  One, Bonner is an asthmatic.  And, two, the fourth-year senior doesn’t want to end his collegiate career with a truncated season, which will be the case as the Big Ten has gone to a conference-only schedule.

From Ryan’s report:

Seeing teammates test positive for the coronavirus during team workouts this summer made Bonner, who has asthma, reassess playing. The idea of a shortened season — and the threat of an even shorter one should the season be canceled midway through — also didn’t appeal to Bonner.

“That was already on my mind prior to returning to campus,” he said. “Playing football, I feel we’re more at risk with the amount of guys we have. In football you have to touch someone else. You can spread that to family members. That’s not what I want. I don’t want to not see my family, my sister, my girlfriend.”

“I’ve seen some people get sick from it,” Bonner said. “I don’t want that to happen to me. It’s the confirmation that people our age can get sick. (Some) try to make it seem like we’re immune.

“It was more so that than the number (of cases at Illinois) itself. We’re doing a lot better than other schools in terms of numbers. But the fact that someone can get really sick — I don’t want that.

As far as we know, Bonner is the first FBS player to opt out of the 2020 season because of COVID-19.  At this time, it’s unclear if Cerny’s personal reasons are similar to Bonner’s.

Bonner still has his redshirt season to use for the 2020 campaign.  That would allow him to return to the Illinois football team as a fifth-year senior in 2021.  Provided the Illini renews his scholarship, of course.  According to Ryan, though, “[a]thletic director Josh Whitman, coach Lovie Smith… supported his decision,” so that would appear to be the case.

Bonner has rushed for 822 yards and 10 touchdowns during his three seasons with the Big Ten school.  He would’ve been the team’s leading returning rusher.  Added to the graduations of Reggie Corbin (team-leading 675 yards a season ago) and Dre Bown (584), Bonner’s departure means Jakari Norwood (94) will carry that moniker.