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Originally published August 8, 2007 at 12:00 AM | Page modified August 29, 2007 at 2:06 PM

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Bonnell went through too much to quit now

It tempted Carl Bonnell to just walk away. He'd been through five coaches in four years, an eligibility mess that tossed him into a harsher...

Seattle Times staff reporter

It tempted Carl Bonnell to just walk away.

He'd been through five coaches in four years, an eligibility mess that tossed him into a harsher spotlight than he ever wanted, and enough injuries to make the trainer's room a second home.

And now, after he'd claimed his greatest victory, one that figured to at least allow him to compete for the starting quarterback job at the University of Washington, that plum was seemingly snatched away from him before he could even put up a real fight.

"That [quitting the team] was definitely there," Bonnell said this week of his thoughts when he found out that the Huskies were naming Jake Locker as the starting quarterback heading into spring practice. "You definitely have to make that decision. I'm pretty much done with classes [he's earning a degree in history]. I could just graduate."

But then he hadn't gone through all that — the messy departure from Washington State to UW in 2003 just in time to see Rick Neuheisel fired and the Washington program thrown into a whirlwind — without learning a little about perseverance.

"I just decided to come back and make this the funnest and best experience I've been through since I've been here," said Bonnell, a Kentwood High School graduate.

So there he was as UW began practice this week, running around and throwing passes seemingly without a care in the world.

Certainly, he said, he's not worrying whether he earns the starting job, something that seems as remote as did UW's chances heading into the Apple Cup last November before Bonnell helped lead a most unlikely victory.

It was shortly after that game, when Bonnell threw for 271 yards and two touchdowns, that he underwent fairly intensive surgery on his left shoulder. Bonnell's succession of injuries the lengthy rehab coming after the surgery surely played into the decision to anoint Locker. UW coach Tyrone Willingham says he would have made the same decision even if Bonnell were completely healthy, though.

"I understood it a little bit," Bonnell says now. "I was coming off the surgery and I threw way too many interceptions before [11 in 164 attempts]. I was kind of beat up. And Jake's got incredible upside. As much as I've ever seen at quarterback."

Washington coaches insist the job is still open, though Locker seems firmly entrenched atop the depth chart, with few thinking there's really a chance he won't be the starter for the opener against Syracuse on Aug. 31.

Bonnell, though, says "I think the opportunity is strong, so I'm going to compete as hard as I can and if I don't get the quarterback job, then Jake will be better because of it."

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That's what Bonnell did in the spring, coming back from offseason shoulder surgery more rapidly than expected and pushing Locker so much that some wondered when drills ended if he wasn't the best guy.

Others pointed out, however, that the watered-down playbook of the spring game — the QBs basically weren't allowed to run — took away much of what Locker does best and accentuated Bonnell's greater mastery of the team's schemes.

"I was just having fun competing and having confidence in what we are doing," Bonnell said. "This is my third year with these coaches and I know what we are doing now and I think that translates on the field. I think I played well. There's a number of ways I could have went from there [after Locker was named starter] and I'm comfortable in how I reacted."

He's also feeling better than he has in years. The shoulder, he said, "feels fine, though it looks disgusting," and he's back up to about 214 pounds after falling to around 200 last season.

Willingham praises Bonnell's progress, saying he's "the most excited about Carl that I've ever been," and calling him "a different person and a different player" than previously.

But he also defends the quick trigger on the decision last winter, which contrasted with more patient calls on the position in prior years.

"Two years ago I was new and they were new," Willingham said. "Right now, I have as much information as I've had on our quarterbacks in the history of my being here, and basically on every other position, so you can make decisions sooner and still be fair and equitable."

Willingham also dismisses the possibility of using two quarterbacks regularly, saying the leadership at that position "shouldn't be divided."

Whatever happens, Bonnell, who turns 24 next month, says he's ready for it.

"There's been a lot of situations I've been through and I haven't really enjoyed a lot of them," Bonnell said. "But I've been strong through them. If I get to play or if I only get a couple of snaps, I'm just proud of how I've handled this."

Bob Condotta: 206-515-5699 or bcondotta@seattletimes.com. Read his blogs on Washington football and basketball at www.seattletimes.com/huskies

Copyright © 2007 The Seattle Times Company

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