MONTGOMERY, Ohio -- Bundled up with winter hats and gloves, Evan Leader and Colt Brown just wanted to high five their favorite Sycamore football player at halftime last weekend.
The second graders stood outside the Barnitz Stadium end zone waiting for the Aviators to emerge from the locker room before the third quarter of Sycamore’s Division I regional semifinal against Mason.
Sycamore senior running back Ra’Von Bonner wanted to get warmed up early so he emerged before his teammates. Sycamore led 6-0 in the most important game of the players’ careers, against their perennial rival.
The magnitude of the game didn’t stop Bonner from making a simple gesture. It was one that made an impact not only on the youngsters, but the standout football player.
He walked up to embrace Leader and Brown with some genuine hugs and high fives -- much to their delight and that of Evan’s father, Greg Leader.
“I am just naturally a hugger,” Bonner said at practice Tuesday. “That may have made my night more than it made theirs. Even though they look up to me as a role model it pushes me to know I have to be a great example for them. You can be a good or bad role model. I wanted to let them know what I stand for.”
The moment was captured in a video clip that Leader, a Scripps employee and district volunteer, tweeted after the game.
— Greg Leader (@Greg_Leader) November 12, 2016
“He is by far their favorite player,” Greg Leader said Tuesday. “When he hugged them you should have seen the look on their face -- you would’ve thought it was Joey Votto or someone like that.”
Area high school football fans understand what Bonner has meant to the Aviators (8-4) as the program makes its first regional final appearance Friday night against St. Xavier (7-5) in a game played at Hamilton (7:30 p.m. kickoff).
This week is undoubtedly special for Sycamore, which is just one of four No. 7 seeds remaining across seven divisions in Ohio. The Aviators, who have been playing varsity football since 1947, are one of eight teams left in Division I.
Bonner, an Illinois verbal commit, has rushed for 2,122 yards and 34 touchdowns. He’s rushed for 200-plus yards five times this season.
His 77 career touchdowns has placed him on the Ohio High School Athletic Association’s all-time list for most career rushing touchdowns.
For those who know Bonner, it’s his character, which makes him a true role model for the Aviators’ program. He’s one of the captains for Sycamore and a player who brings plenty of vocal energy.
“In my 12 years as an athletic director, he’s one of the humblest student-athletes I’ve ever been around,” Sycamore Athletic Director Phil Poggi said.
Bonner, 17, routinely deflects attention, thanks school administrators and classmates and gives shout-outs to opposing teams and players on social media.
“He’s a kid that works and a kid that cares about his community, his team and his school,” Sycamore coach Scott Dattilo said. “It’s real evident in the way he communicates with coaches. The expectations and standards he holds himself to also rubs off on others.”
Bonner’s Christian beliefs are a centerpiece of his daily motivation. He is a leader in the newly formed Fellowship of Christian Athletes at school. He attends Montgomery Community Church. He wants to be a missionary when his football career is completed.
"When we was eight years old he said, 'I want to be a football player and then a pastor,'" his mother Rachelle Johnson said. "He said, 'mom, will you sit in the first row so I won't be nervous?'"
Playing football, Bonner said, serves a greater purpose in expressing his faith. He understands the game can be taken from him in a single instant, so he has a perspective to remain humble.
He routinely credits his teachers, classmates and the school district.
“He’s the ultimate class act,” Poggi said. “He’s humble to the core. He’s great with the youth. Just an unbelievable young man.”
Sycamore Principal Doug Mader said Bonner goes above and beyond to tell the truth and be an excellent ambassador for the school.
“I cannot say enough positive things about Ra’Von,” Mader said. “Ra’Von is the most humble athlete I have had the privilege to know in my educational career. Ra’Von is always thinking and being about something bigger than himself.”