BOURBONNAIS — When they were growing up in Hinsdale, Ian Bunting and Thomas Ives went to the same grade school and middle school and became teammates in football and basketball at Hinsdale Central. Bunting still has a picture of a memorable moment against Hinsdale South in 2013.
“Thomas was actually playing quarterback at the time,” said Bunting, who was a year ahead of Ives in school. “He threw a tunnel screen to me, and there was a picture of me catching the ball and him in the background with the follow-through. That was pretty cool.”
While they still cherish those great times, their friendship has reached another level that previously existed only in their daydreams — as teammates on the Bears.
Bunting, a 6-7, 255-pound tight end from California/Michigan, and Ives, a 6-5, 215-pound wide receiver from Colgate, are undrafted free agents making the most of a golden opportunity at Bears training camp at Olivet Nazarene. It’s exciting for each of them but a bit surreal that the former high school teammates are getting that opportunity at the highest level with the team they grew up rooting for — and together again.
“Yeah, it’s awesome,” Bunting said. “It’s a great journey we’ve been on. Every kid when they’re young, as soon as the school-bell rings, runs outside and plays pickup football. Everyone pretends they’re catching the game-winning touchdown for the Bears. It’s exciting. We love it. And it’s an awesome opportunity. When we were that young, I don’t think we ever thought we’d be here right now.”
Bunting, 23, had 18 receptions for 195 yards as a graduate transfer at Cal last season after four seasons at Michigan. Ives, 23, had 15 receptions for 263 yards (17.5 average) at Colgate last season, when he was second-team All-Patriot League for a second consecutive season.
“Thinking back to high school, it’s just crazy because Ian is out here, too,” Ives said. “That’s the craziest part — just looking back and thinking, there we were at Hinsdale Central. We took different paths here. But here we are. It’s really special having him here.”
Bunting and Ives are roster long shots whose best chance is the practice squad. But both have made an early impression. Ives has made several impressive receptions. And Bunting was mentioned by coach Matt Nagy after practice Thursday — unprompted — as a young tight end to keep an eye on.
“I think Ian Bunting is a guy that has some nice size,” Nagy said, “and it’s going to be when we start going live, when we strap it up — can he hold the point and what can he do?”
While obviously hoping for any NFL opportunity — “There’s a million people who would kill to be in our shoes,” Bunting said — Ives and Bunting are getting a particular kick out of playing for the Bears.
“Especially being out in Bourbonnais right now,” Ives said, “it brings back memories of watching the news with your parents and seeing Brian Urlacher and the Bears report to camp, and you see the picture on your TV of these same [practice] fields. It’s really cool when you jog out to practice. You’ve got Peanut [Charles Tillman] and those guys flashing through your memory on the TV.”
Though football is a job now, Bunting said there’s still a 15-year-old kid in him who can’t believe he’s playing for the Bears.
“I’m trying to keep that [feeling] as much as possible,” Bunting said. “Obviously, you approach it like a job because it is. But you can’t get too lost in that, in my opinion. I like to remind myself all the time, just look around, and I’m like, ‘Wow. Come on. This is awesome. I’m in camp with the Bears.’ If I ever think about anything like that . . . you pinch yourself a little bit.”