PINCKNEY — Senior Jimmy Bona is the third of four boys in his family to play quarterback at Pinckney. As the youngest, with twin brothers 10 years older, his introduction to football came in the front yard of the Bona home.
And it was what you’d expect.
“It started in our front yard,” said Dominic, the first of the three sons, who later became a standout quarterback at Albion College. “Joe was 8 and Jimmy was 6. We used to beat up on them.”
“They did not go easy on us,” said Joe, who played quarterback his senior season in 2019 and now is a finance major at Michigan State. “They made us way more tough, mentally and physically. They made us who we are today.”
These days, Dominic, a starter in 2011-12, and Joe both help mentor their brother – Dominic from his home in the Denver area and Joe from East Lansing.
“I watch a little film here and there,” Dominic says. “I give them tips on coverages and footwork. I started with Joe and now going to Jimmy. He’s doing a great job.”
Jimmy Bona has completed 58 percent of his passes for 674 yards and 11 touchdowns versus only two interceptions, as the Pirates (5-2) finished play in the Southeastern Conference White in second place with a 4-1 record.
He’s the youngest of Tony and Jackie Bona’s six children total, which includes two sets of fraternal twins. Dominic and Mitch, a former Pinckney hockey player who now is an Army Ranger; sister Allison; and Joe and Rachel, who is a member of the Grand Valley State University dance team.
It’s a close-knit family, and the three older kids were frequently each assigned one of their siblings to keep an eye on when on expeditions outside the home.
It was definitely a football family, for the most part, according to Jackie.
“Jimmy was born in September,” she said. “I was at Dom’s game with Jimmy, a week later. I can’t tell you how much we’ve enjoyed the process. We’ve been doing this for so long. We moved here when Mitch and Dom were in the second grade. I’ve had a kid in football for 20 years.”
The older brothers always included their younger siblings in whatever games were being played in the front yard.
“It was a rough house to live up to,” Jimmy said. “They taught me a bunch of stuff, like life lessons. My parents weren’t in the house much because they were working, so (my brothers) kind of raised me and made me who I am today. I can’t thank them enough.”
The front yard football field used the Bonas’ driveway and a neighbor’s as end zones.
“You didn’t want to get tackled in the end zone,” Dominic said, laughing. “You might hit a mailbox, too.”
The kids played indoors when the weather was bad, with results you also might expect.
“We only recently got furniture in the front room,” Jackie said. “We finally painted and put furniture in a few years ago.”
These days, the Bonas are still a close family, keeping in touch with a family chat while Dominic and Joe do what they can to help Jimmy during his senior season.
“I text him every week,” Dominic says. “At the beginning of the week, I remind him to get his mind right, and on Friday morning I tell him to get into the zone, try and get his head right.”
The family gets together whenever it can, including last weekend, when Dominic and Mitch returned for Pinckney’s homecoming win over Ypsilanti Community. Joe, meanwhile, has attended all but one of the Pirates’ games this season.
Jimmy, in at least one measure, is no longer the little brother.
“When I got taller than my older brothers, I got way happier,” Jimmy said, grinning.
There’s a little sense of the bittersweet with the Bonas as Jimmy completes his high school journey.
“Some of these kids have been playing together since the first grade,” Jackie said. “It’s been a lovely experience I’ll never forget. It’s been amazing. But it’s never been this quiet at our house, ever. I can’t believe it’s almost over. When they say the days are long and the years are short, it’s true.”
Pinckney coach Rod Beaton was an assistant when Dominic played for the Pirates a decade ago, and coached both Joe and Jimmy Bona on the Pirates varsity.
“Unfortunately, there are no more Bonas in the pipeline,” Beaton said, laughing. “But I will tell you, they’ve set a precedent.”
PHOTOS (Top) Pinckney quarterback Jimmy Bona works to pull away from a defender during his team’s Week 2 game against Harper Woods. (Middle) Jimmy, middle, gets plenty of support from older brothers Dominic (left) and Joe. (Top photo by Quintin Love Jr.; middle photo courtesy of Jackie Bona.)
LAWRENCE — While COVID-19 affected many students in different ways, it definitely made an impact on Austin Vasquez.
As a freshman at Lawrence High School during the pandemic, Vasquez lost his grandmother Theresa Phillips to cancer on March 25, 2021.
Two days later, on March 27, his father Tom Vasquez, died of complications from COVID. And on April 19 that spring, his grandfather Darrell “Gene” Phillips also lost his fight against the coronavirus.
“There is no way (to cope). You just have to keep on moving,” Austin said. “It’s what (my dad) would want me to do.
“He was my biggest (influence) in sports. He talked to me about never giving up – leave everything you’ve got.”
That is just what Vasquez is doing in the midst of his three-sport senior year.
He is the top wrestler at the school, competing at 175 pounds with a goal of making the MHSAA Tournament. He was a versatile contributor on the football field this past fall, and he’s planning to join the baseball team this spring.
He’s 8-3 with six pins on the mat this winter after a busy summer of camps and tournaments. Those experiences helped lessen the nerves he’d felt during matches previously, and now he’s wrestling with an outlook of “everything to gain and nothing to lose.”
And Vasquez said he feels his dad’s presence as he prepares for competition.
“Before every match, before every game, I just think about what my dad would be telling me,” he said. “Everything he’s always told me has taught me to get better.
“In life, I still remember everything he taught me. He was definitely a great man, and I want to be like him someday.”
Wrestling also has made Vasquez more in tune with his health.
His sophomore season he went from 230 pounds to 215, and by his junior year was down to his current 175.
“I just wanted to be healthier, not just for wrestling,” he said. “I started going to the gym every night, watched my calories, and from there grew (taller).
“Now I’m at 6-(foot-)2, and I don’t know how that happened,” he laughed.
Lawrence coach Henry Payne said Vasquez always has a positive attitude and helps the other wrestlers in the program.
“When he notices a kid next to him doing a move wrong, he’ll go over and show him the right way,” Payne said. “We have a lot of young kids that this is their first year, and he’s been a good coach’s helper.”
The coach’s helper gig will continue after graduation.
"Next year we’re hoping to open up a youth program here, and I got him and an alumni that graduated last year and is helping the varsity team this year (Conner Tangeman) to take over the youth program for us,” Payne said.
On the football team, Vasquez was a jack of all trades.
“He started at guard, went to tight end, went to our wingback, went to our running back. He was trying to get the quarterback spot,” football coach Derek Gribler laughed.
Vasquez said there is no other feeling like being on the field, especially during home games.
“Wrestling is my main sport, but I’d do anything to go back and play football again,” he said. “I just love it.”
Although the football team struggled through a 1-8 season, “It was still a really fun season,” Vasquez said. “Everybody was super close. Most of us never really talked before, but we instantly became like a family.”
Vasquez had the support of his mother, Heather, and four older sisters: Makaylah, Briahna, Ahlexis and Maryah. He also found his school family helped him get through the end of his freshman year.
“(My friends) were always there for me when everything was going on,” he said. “I took that last month off school because it was too hard to be around people at that time.
"Every single one of them reached out and said, ‘Hey, I know you’re going through a rough time.’ It really helped to hear that and get out of the house.”
The family connection between Vasquez and Lawrence athletic director John Guillean goes back to the senior’s youth.
“I was girls basketball coach, so I coached his sisters,” Guillean said. “I remember him when he was pretty young. I knew the family pretty well. I knew his dad. He was pretty supportive and was there for everything.”
Vasquez said that freshman year experience has made him appreciate every day, and he gives the following advice: “Every time you’re wrestling, it could be your last time on the mat or last time on the field. Treat every game and every match as if it’s going to be your last. If you’re committed to the sport, take every chance you have to help your team be successful.”
Gribler has known Vasquez since he was in seventh grade and, as also the school’s varsity baseball coach, will work with Vasquez one more time with the senior planning to add baseball as his spring sport.
“When we talk about Tiger Pride, Austin’s a kid that you can put his face right on the logo. His work ethic is just unbelievable,” Gribler said. “Everything he does is with a smile. He could be having the worst day of his life, and he’d still have a smile on his face. He pushes through. It’s tough to do and amazing to see.”
The coach – who also starred at Lawrence as an athlete – noted the small community’s ability to rally around Vasquez and his family. Lawrence has about 150 students in the high school.
“It goes beyond sports,” Gribler said. “Austin knows when he needs something he can always reach out and we’ll have his back, we’ll have his family’s back. It’s not so much about winning as it is about the kids.”
Vasquez is already looking ahead to life after high school. He attends morning courses at Van Buren Tech, studying welding, and returns to the high school for afternoon classes.
“I’d like to either work on the pipeline as a pipeline welder or be a lineman,” he said, adding, “possibly college. I would like to wrestle in college, but let’s see how this year goes.
“I’m ready to get out, but it’s going to be hard to leave this all behind.”
Pam Shebest served as a sportswriter at the Kalamazoo Gazette from 1985-2009 after 11 years part-time with the Gazette while teaching French and English at White Pigeon High School. She can be reached at [email protected] with story ideas for Calhoun, Kalamazoo and Van Buren counties.
PHOTOS (Top) Lawrence senior Andrew Vasquez, right, wrestles against Hartford this season. (2) Vasquez works on gaining the advantage in a match against Mendon. (3) From left: Lawrence wrestling coach Henry Payne, athletic director John Guillean and football and baseball coach Derek Gribler. (4) Vasquez also was a standout on the football field. (Wrestling and football photos courtesy of the Lawrence athletic department. Headshots by Pam Shebest.)