2024 CFL Draft profiles: former Indiana LB D.K. Bonhomme denies funny business after Invitational no-show

Photo courtesy: AP Photo/Doug McSchooler

The CFL Invitational Combine is the arena of the underdog and the unheralded; a place for comeback stories to gain a foothold.

Given that history, it was no surprise that most media outlets circled D.K. Bonhomme’s name in the lead-up to this year’s event in Waterloo, projecting a potential show-stopping performance from the former NCAA prospect. But despite all that hype, the Ottawa native never showed.

No calls. No e-mails. There was complete silence from the player’s camp in the wake of his unexplained absence, leaving both scouts and reporters baffled. When the CFL quietly upgraded the phantom prospect to the main Combine in Winnipeg the following week, many around the league wondered if that type of behaviour deserved to be rewarded.

“Everybody out there has their two cents to say about the situation but unless you come to me and ask me, you don’t really know what’s happening,” Bonhomme said in an interview last week.

It didn’t take long for rumours to start regarding the Waterloo no-show. Multiple sources told 3DownNation that they believed the prospect was told not to attend by another franchise hoping to sow doubt and snag him later in the draft.

Bonhomme vehemently denied those allegations when pressed, insisting instead that the decision was financial. Without a car of his own or the disposable income to pay for a hotel, the six-hour drive across the province was simply never going to happen.

“It was a money situation. They said that we had to pay and find our own way there. I couldn’t make it unfortunately, I wasn’t gonna put that burden on anybody,” he said, confessing that he never reached out to the CFL for assistance.

“I should have done a better job communicating it with the league, but I just put my eggs in one basket. Whichever team wants to see me perform, they will hit me up and I’ll do a workout for them.”

That will no longer be necessary after his comeback was given new life in Winnipeg, but Bonhomme’s original strategy belies a luxury few other prospects have. The former three-star recruit’s NCAA pedigree was always going to force teams to kick the tires on him, even if he didn’t have the wheels to make his way to them.

Born in Haiti and raised in Montreal until the age of 14, the six-foot-one, 225-pound defender first became a football sensation after moving to Ottawa. He would attract American attention first at Canada Prep in St. Catharines, Ont. and later at Clearwater Academy International in Florida, landing 17 Division I offers before settling on Indiana University.

For a kid who grew up watching the Big Ten on TV, it was a dream come true and the early returns as a Hoosier were incredibly positive. He dressed for 11 games as a true freshman in 2019, recording just a single tackle but logging significant time on special teams. During the shortened 2020 season, he looked to be one of IU’s most exciting young prospects, contributing 15 tackles, two tackles for loss, a sack and a safety in limited defensive snaps through eight games.

With his ability to drop in coverage or rush off the edge, many expected a breakout junior campaign. Instead, a nagging issue with his patellar tendon left Bonhomme on the fringes of the roster, resulting in just one tackle in five appearances. Unsatisfied and in search of bigger opportunities, he followed defensive coordinator Kane Wommack to the University of South Alabama in 2022.

Photo courtesy: Scott Donaldson/South Alabama Athletics

The move did not go as planned, as Bonhomme notched six tackles through his first three games as a Jaguar before suffering a broken ankle. The injury also damaged a pair of ligaments and required surgery, costing him the season. With a new screw in his joint, the once-promising linebacker decided to quit the sport, leaving him plagued with doubts.

“I would think about it consciously every day. Man, do I really want to quit? Should I put myself back out there? Should I give it another try?” he recalled. “Watching everybody play this last season, going to the stadium at South Alabama and watching my old teammates play, I felt this big hole, this big part of my life missing. I just had to fill it back up and the only way to do so was to get back on the field.”

That was easier said than done. Though he successfully completed a degree in communications during his time away from the game, Bonhomme admits he didn’t do much else in the idle hours except play video games. By the time he officially came out of retirement in December, his weight had ballooned considerably.

“I was pushing 260, had to get on a no-carb diet for six or seven weeks,” he admitted. “It was tough, but we made it happen. I’m not in great shape, not like the shape that I was in before, but it was good enough for me to come out here and show what I can do.”

That context makes the numbers that Bonhomme put up at the Combine all the more impressive. Nearly 35 pounds lighter than he was three months ago, he finished second among linebackers in the forty-yard dash at 4.79 seconds and the broad jump at nine feet, 11 inches, while landing top five among all players with a 37-inch vertical. A 7.25-second three-cone and 4.44-second short shuttle were on par with the rest of the pack, while 16 reps on the bench proved he had been in the gym.

There was a learning curve once the fieldwork began but Bonhomme stood out on the second day of competitive practice and drew rave reviews from coaches. Though a stomach bug forced him to miss the final day’s session, it seems he accomplished what he needed to get back in the good graces of talent evaluators across the league.

More than just giving him a platform to improve his stock, the controversial Combine invitation made real a comeback that until then seemed only hypothetical.

“That first day on the field was my first day putting pads on since September 16, 2022,” Bonhomme marvelled. “I got on the field and I was tearing up, it was unreal to me. I was just so thankful for the opportunity to be able to play ball again, to play the sport that I love.”

CFL teams will now need to decide how much they trust him to do that at the next level, weighing his checkered path and communication faux-pas against the obvious physical talent.

The 2024 CFL Draft is slated for Tuesday, April 30 at 8:00 p.m. EDT.

J.C. Abbott is a University of British Columbia graduate and high school football coach. He covers the CFL, B.C. Lions, CFL Draft and the three-down league's Global initiative.