It didn't take long for Michelle Keyes to realize that her son, Donovan Bunch, could be special on the football field.
"He has been playing football since he was 6, and he was a massive talent," Keyes said of the Winslow Township senior. "And it has been like that ever since."
Actually, Bunch's parents had an indication he could be something special well before he first put on shoulder pads.
"He was always a fast kid, and when he could walk, he had a ball," Keyes said. "So it was like he knew he wanted to play ball."
During the spring, the 6-foot, 170-pound Bunch realized a lifelong dream when he made an oral commitment to Rutgers. At the time, he had received 16 scholarship offers. In fact, Keyes said, her son is still hearing from schools.
"I have wanted to play Division I football since I was little," Bunch said.
Bunch's mother has long been a huge football fan, and the same goes for his father, Donnie Bunch.
In fact, the younger Bunch is continuing the tradition of his father, who was a standout quarterback and defensive back at Woodrow Wilson High before earning a football scholarship to Penn State. The elder Bunch said he sees a lot of himself in his son.
"It is like looking in the mirror," Donnie Bunch said. "He has the backing of me and his mother, and I always tell him that you have a father who has experienced the ups and downs on and off the field and the best of both worlds."
Donnie Bunch lasted less than two years at Penn State.
"I had the skill to succeed, but I had a few knucklehead moments that got me sidetracked," Donnie Bunch said.
So he has tried to impart to his son the importance of staying focused on the task at hand, and that guidance has been a big part of Donovan's development.
"He is the one who started me playing football," Donovan Bunch said of his father. "He is the greatest father in the world."
He said his mother, who also attended Woodrow Wilson, has been a big part of his success, too. "She has been so supportive," he said.
What makes Bunch such an intriguing player is that he is young for his grade. He won't turn 17 until September.
"Donovan still has such an upside to him," said Kemp Carr, who resigned as Winslow's coach in June because of a change in his employment situation.
Carr said the best thing about Bunch is his length.
"You don't see a lot of 6-foot corners who are twitchy, rangy," Carr said. "He has good transition, can attack the ball in the air, has been a three-plus-interception guy for us since he became a starter, and has the ability to go find the football."
Bunch has started in the secondary since his sophomore year. He had three interceptions that season and three more as a junior.
He had 36 tackles last year and two passes defended. He also averaged 31.7 yards on 11 kickoff returns and added 22 receptions for 367 yards and two touchdowns.
Despite how much Bunch enjoys offense, Rutgers recruited him to play cornerback.
"I think Bunch and Donald Williams of Camden are the best pure corners in the state," said David McCarthy, of the McCarthy Report, a recruiting publication about New Jersey players that is sold to colleges. "With both players committed to Rutgers, they should be starting cornerbacks for a number of years together."
It is no surprise that Bunch is excelling in the secondary. His father did the same.
"My dad has taught me so much about playing corner," Bunch said.
"He has really great reactions, a great tool box, which allows him to match up well with any receiver," McCarthy said. "He has great reactions, gets a tremendous break on the ball, and has the talent to shut down opponents' top receivers."
NCAA rules prohibit a school to talk about a recruit until a letter of intent is signed — the early period will be Dec. 19-21 — but Bunch said Rutgers impressed him with its loyalty shown during his recruiting.
"They have been there since Day 1," he said of the Rutgers coaches. "They were the first school to offer me in January."
It takes a special mind-set to play cornerback. It is among the most difficult positions on the field and requires a short memory because of the advantage most receivers have.
"It is the only position in football with abnormal movement, meaning everything else moves forward on a linear path. It is a position you are actually going backwards and are more reacting than anything," Carr said.
Bunch said he enjoys that challenge.
"The biggest challenge is having your technique down with your footwork," he said. "If you don't have that footwork, you can't play."
It is that technique that his father has worked on tirelessly over the years.
"As a father, you don't want to try to push too hard," Donnie Bunch said. "From the beginning, he showed the initiative that he really wanted to learn the game and was definitely a student of the game and wanted to get better."
Quiet by nature, Bunch is expected to be one of the leaders on a Winslow Township team that should be vastly improved from last year's 4-6 edition, which won three of its last five games.
"When you look at [Bunch], he is a kid who cares about his teammates, cares about what happens around him," Carr said. "He is coming out of his shell. He is becoming more vocal."
One thing that hasn't changed is Bunch's confidence in his ability.