A person can set every kind of goal their heart may desire, but until they put their feet on the ground and actually begin moving forward, none of those goals are going to be met.
That path also saw him transfer from Hillside High School in Hillside, New Jersey to St. Peter’s Prep in Jersey City prior to his junior year in order to find a bigger challenge, and also to become more readily available to college football’s radar.
After all, if you want to be seen, go where the eyeballs are.
And it didn’t take long after transferring to St. Peter’s Prep before Bonsu was more than just a blip.
In fact, it only took two games before Maryland threw their hat into the ring with an offer. Then came Michigan State and Pitt a month later. Georgia Tech and West Virginia soon followed. Then came an offer from Ohio State in early December. Michigan, Texas, Georgia, LSU, Alabama, Oklahoma, Oregon, and many, many others joined the fray as well.
Bonsu committed to the Buckeyes on August 14, then he went out and continued working because the job was far from finished.
Rich Hansen III was in his first year as head coach at St. Peter’s Prep when Jayden Bonsu arrived. Hansen took over the program from his father, who retired following the 2020 season after 33 seasons as the Marauders’ head coach.
Hansen spent the previous 13 years as defensive coordinator for his father, so he knew all of the returning players very well. But Bonsu was a bit of an unknown.
“First impression is just that he’s a big kid,” Hansen told Buckeye Huddle. “Really kind of physically gifted kid. I think that jumps off the page right away when you meet him, when you look at him. He’s just got imposing physical attributes. And then his personality kind of matches that. He’s very stoic. He’s very businesslike, really focused, and that kind of matches with his physique.”
Bonsu is listed by Ohio State as 6-foot-1 and 210 pounds, and is one of the more physical players in the Buckeyes’ 2023 signing class. Despite being an unknown when he arrived, it didn’t take long for Hansen to realize he had a high-major college football prospect on his hands.
“Pretty much right away,” he said. “I think when you’re his size, and he’s probably over 6-1, but when you’re his size, the biggest thing that I always tell guys is if you can show a little bit physicality on film, and you can run, there is no limit. That’s really the biggest thing. And he was able to do that right away his junior year.”
Bonsu’s junior highlights are littered with big hits, for instance.
From Zero To Sixty
Jayden Bonsu only had a handful of tackles in his first two games in 2021, but his first game saw him cause a fumble and his second netted a sack. As a junior, he finished with 70 tackles, 4.5 tackles for loss, 2.5 sacks, and an interception in 10 games.
The more college programs saw, the more they liked, especially since they hadn’t really seen anything prior to his time at St. Peter’s Prep.
“His recruitment was interesting because, again, coming out of COVID, he really had zero offers, he had really no interest,” Hansen explained. “He was very much an under-the-radar guy. Really didn’t play. His COVID year he had a little bit of an injury. So we were getting a little bit of an unknown coming to us. But at the same time, what we saw right away was that this guy’s got really, really good potential.”
The process began to happen just as Bonsu wanted, but it also brought a new reality with it. He was now going to start receiving offers from some of the nation’s top programs, so he was going to have to quickly figure out what he wanted in his next stop.
“His recruitment was so fast, and he went from nothing to everything literally over a week or two,” Hansen said. “So our conversations with him were kind of right away, like, ‘I know you’ve dreamt of this your whole life, and you just got your first offer, but guess what, very quickly here, you need to start thinking about what are you looking for and start to narrow it down even before it feels like you need to.'”
From Bonsu’s first conversation with Ohio State safeties coach Perry Eliano, they had a plan for him. Eliano talked about what they saw from Bonsu and what the individual development plan would look like for him. And for a guy who had been living according to a plan for a while now, it hit him just right.
Driven To Be The Best
Jayden Bonsu is obviously a motivated individual. Beginning with the transfer to St. Peter’s Prep to play against the best in New Jersey, then to signing with Ohio State knowing that the competition is going to make it difficult for him to see the field right away. Each step of the way, he has continued to take the hard road because that is the best way to get where he’s going.
And in terms of life as a football prospect, all he’s ever known is the hard way.
“He’s not your typical nationally recruited five-star or four-star kid, whatever. He hasn’t lived it for three, four, five, six years in that realm,” Hansen said. “He is definitely a guy who came to us with a chip on his shoulder. He came to us because he wanted more, because he wanted to push himself harder, because he wanted to achieve more than what he was currently on track to do.”
Despite his successes to this point, this is little more than a checkpoint for Bonsu. Yes, he made it to Ohio State, but Hansen doesn’t see him being satisfied with just “making it.”
“I think that chip is really important for him to keep, and it should be easy going to a place like Ohio State,” he said. “Because, again, no matter what they tell you, no matter what everybody says about you, you’re not going to go in and be the man. You really have to put your head down and earn it. He understands that.”
The Value Of Positional Flexibility
Checking in at 6-foot-1 (plus) and 210 pounds, Jayden Bonsu is already a big safety. Even during his recruitment, people wondered if he might outgrow the safety position and have to play linebacker.
Some safeties can only play in the secondary. They don’t have an “in-the-box demeanor.” Bonsu is not one of those safeties.
At St. Peter’s Prep, you were as likely to see him as a deep safety as you were a linebacker. And you were as likely to see him blitzing from the edge as you were to see him in the slot.
Whatever the defense needed, they could ask it of him.
As to his position in college, Hansen expects to see him in more than just one spot.
“I think that’s a great question,” he said. “I think, honestly, what they’re doing with him is exactly what I would do with him in terms of looking at moving forward, him being able to have that positional flexibility. I think he has the frame to put on more weight. It’s always just a matter of what does that look like when you get there.”
Wherever Bonsu ultimately ends up position-wise, he will have the size and athleticism to help out in other ways. As defenses continue to look for positionless players who can cover a tight end one one play, set the edge against the run the next, and be a deep safety protecting the top of the defense on third down, players like Bonsu will continue to grow in importance.
“Absolutely. I think it’s the most sought-after position defensively, guys who have that flexibility, right?” Hansen said. “They don’t have to be pigeonholed into doing one thing. And I think for Jayden, he’s been able to do that so far in his high school career and he’s watched other guys do it both at Ohio State and across the country.”
At St. Peter’s Prep, Bonsu was first asked to master one position before moving to the responsibilities of another. It is important for their players to know their first position at a high level so that they also know what everyone around them is doing as well. It wasn’t too long before Hansen and his staff began doing more and more with Bonsu.
“He definitely has a high football IQ, and was able to do more really quickly,” Hansen said. “After maybe a month or so we were already moving him around and having him do different things. And he was always constantly asking for that. I think he was eager to learn. He wanted to be able to not just showcase himself but also just be able to understand more about the scheme in general, not just from a solitary position. And he was also always a guy that wanted to do more on special teams and wanted to do more on offense, even though it’s not something that we necessarily do a lot of with our top top-end guys. But he was always very eager to try to explore those other things also.”
On And Off The Field
If something needs to be done, don’t expect to wait long before Jayden Bonsu is volunteering to make it happen.
When the defense needed something, he was ready to get involved wherever he could help best. According to Hansen, he was a leader by example. His actions spoke for him, and they were heard loud and clear.
His leadership was one of his best qualities, but it wasn’t his only one in high school.
“His strengths are his size, his physicality, and ability to run,” Hansen said. “I think he’s more fluid than people give him credit for. I think his skill set is pretty deep, pretty deep. He can do a lot.”
As for the areas of concern, there was nothing glaring. Just the same concern that every high school player-turned college player deals with.
“His challenges, I think making the transition always is gonna be how do those things scale when everybody around you is fast and strong and big and physical also,” Hansen explained. “And then just picking up a college playbook. Having high expectations is one thing, and then I think the challenge is always going to be how are you able to transition into a college playbook and the preparation that that takes week in and week out, even for high IQ Player. I’ve seen it time and time again where sometimes guys just need a little bit longer because it is so different than the high school level.”
And while those challenges may be typical, Jayden Bonsu isn’t. Rich Hansen learned that early on, and Ohio State found out not long after.
“He’s just a great kid, man. Great disposition,” Hansen said. “He just really wants to be great. He’s the type of kid that you can really root for. I think a lot of people will want to see him succeed because of not just his background or story or any of that stuff, but just because of who he is. The second you meet him, I think he’s a kid that comes across as very humble and somebody that you can definitely root for, and feel good about that.”