- Feature Story
- NCL Staff
- September 01, 2016 - 8:11am
By: William Weathers
That Brother Martin was ranked No. 1 in the Louisiana Sportswriters Association’s preseason Class 5A poll was more of a compliment to the program than an accurate portrayal of the current team.
That was eighth-year coach Mark Bonis’ appraisal of his program that’s got plenty of box-office appeal returning from last year’s run to the Division I state quarterfinals.
“We do have some good players back,” Bonis said. “We’re replacing a lot of key guys who have not proven themselves yet. As the saying goes, they don’t have a whole lot of skins on the wall yet.”
Brother Martin received six of 11 first-place votes and 111 overall, edging No. 2 West Monroe (109) and No. 3 Evangel Christian (96).
John Curtis (64) is No. 8, while Archbishop Rummel (20) and St. Augustine (1) also received votes.
“Our kids are working hard and that’s (No. 1 ranking) nice to hear,” Bonis said. “It’s a credit to the guys who graduated last year and the year before that. They’ve helped to establish where the program is.
“It wasn’t too long ago where we were struggling,” Bonis said. “We built this program up to where it is right now and people are showing us some respect. The big goal for us is to take the program to the next level. Our guys have a tremendous responsibility this year to continue that trend.”
The complexion of this year’s Brother Martin team has changed with the graduation of key players from an offense that generated 49 points a game.
Gone are three-year starter Jake Broggi at quarterback, tight ends Irv Smith and Peyton Aucoin, along with the team’s second-leading receiver in Dennis Robertson (35 catches, 881 yards, 5 TDs).
The expectation with the return of eight to nine starters is that the Crusaders’ defense will be markedly improved over the unit that permitted 34.6 points a year ago and can take some of the pressure off of the offense.
“I don’t know if we’ll be able to score the same amount of points as last year,” Bonis said. “I’m a head coach who is offensive minded. I’m proud of what we do offensively and we don’t want to take a step back.
“We struggled defensively last year and a lot of that had to do with youth, so I expect us to be much better there,” Bonis said. “There could be some growing pains offensively, but every single day we’re trying to get better.”
With the return of Georgia Tech commitment Bruce Jordan-Swilling at running back and Houston pledge Jeremy Singleton at wide receiver, Brother Martin’s offense won’t lack for firepower.
However, the key ingredient in lighting the spark will be contingent on the development of junior John-Paul Pierce at quarterback, Bonis said.
“There’s a big difference between being talented and gifted and being under the lights,” Bonis said of Pierce. “He has to get experience. We’re excited about what he brings to the table.”
Bonis said his team’s jamboree – a 14-0 win over E.D. White – provided an accurate barometer into the current state of the team.
“Offensively, we were not very good,” he said. “I thought the defense played well and is in a pretty good spot right now, still with a long way to go.”
With Georgia Tech commitment Tre Swilling providing a veteran presence in the secondary, Brother Martin will be able to rely on a front seven with greater experience.
Seniors Matthew Clapp and Dylan Walker will anchor the interior, while senior defensive end/outside linebacker Vejon Wallace returns after being sidelined by a knee injury last season.
The Crusaders will also be counting on from production a trio of returning outside linebackers in juniors Ben Chaplain, Matthew Alfonso and Brendan Brown.
“Right now we’re far away from being the No. 1 ranked team and that’s OK,” Bonis. “We talk about the process and the goal which is to be there at the end of the year.”
Bonis believes his non-district schedule, which starts Friday at 7 p.m. against No. 4 Plaquemine – the first of three straight home games at Tad Gormley Stadium – will serve his team well.
“We believe where we are now as a program has been because of the way we schedule,” he said. “The goal is you want to be playing your best football at the end of the season. The (Catholic) league we’re playing in is very good. In order to prepare for that you’ve got to play the best teams.”
Other Catholic League teams ranked:
8. John Curtis
19. St. Augustine