Brother Martin looks to draw closer to major goals in 2017

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quarterback John-Paul Pierce (
Brother Martin quarterback John-Paul Pierce (#8) returns as a starter in 2017 (Photo: Stephen Lew).

For two of the past three seasons, Brother Martin and head coach Mark Bonis have experienced the oldest, cruelest axiom of all in the world of athletics — close, but no cigar.

There was a semifinal loss to John Curtis in 2014 and a narrow loss in the semifinals in 2016 to Scotlandville. Then there was the brutal one-point loss in the quarterfinals to eventual state champion Catholic High in 2015.

Bonis had the same kind of experience when he initially departed Brother Martin in February of 2016 to become an assistant coach at Memphis before having a change of heart and returning to the Crusaders one week later.

Close, but no cigar.

In that case, Brother Martin was the beneficiary. In the others, the Crusaders were the unfortunate victims.

In 2017, Bonis and his Crusaders will look to take the next step, a step toward returning to becoming a champion.

Brother Martin last reached a state title game in 1989, losing the 4A title to Ouachita Parish. Brother Martin won the 1971 Class 4A state championship, blanking Catholic League rival St. Augustine 23-0.

The drought continues but the return to excellence on Elysian Fields is obvious under Bonis.

“You feel good for your players that have been a part of the success but you are never content unless you win your last game,” Bonis said. “After every season that ends with disappointment, it is very tough to overcome, to turn the page. You are never content until you win the last game. I’m very proud of the players and coaches and what they have accomplished but we want to be able to finish what we start. There is no sense of complacency. You’re always looking to do what you can do better.”

Entering his ninth year, Bonis has posted a solid 55-35 record while building Brother Martin into a Division I contender. Over the last three seasons, Brother Martin has knocked off perennial powers John Curtis, Archbishop Rummel, Karr and Catholic High of Baton Rouge, among others. That speaks to the fact that the Crusaders can play with anyone.

“I agree that we are among the top programs in the state,” Bonis said. “I was fortunate to play for Coach Jeff Bower at Southern Miss. One of their great mottos was to play anyone, anytime, anyplace. We would play the best every year. We would lose some but we also got some to cancel contracts with us. I believe playing that kind of competition only makes you better. We feel we are a solid program.”

That should be the case in 2017 as well, though the Crusaders will have to navigate the graduation of several significant players, including Bruce Jordan-Swilling and Tre Swilling to Georgia Tech and Jeremy Singleton to Houston, along with Vejon Wallis and Matthew Clapp.

Still, Brother Martin has good players in tow.

That begins with the most important position as senior quarterback John-Paul Pierce returns following an outstanding junior season running and throwing the football. The 6-foot-1, 187 pound Pierce threw for 23 touchdowns and rushed for 480 yards and five scores.

Senior Erick Lessair (5-11, 186) is a solid player who could see action at running back, wide receiver and defensive back. Sophomore Chris Smith (5-8, 170) returns after a promising freshman season and has speed. Freshman Ryan Rouege (5-8, 175) has promise as well.

“J.P. did a great job last year, maturing tremendously during the season as a person as a leader,” Bonis said. “He is even better in those areas now. Our backup quarterback, Drew Martin, is a good one as well. They are like coaches. They coach one another and coach our young guys up. They are natural leaders.”

Junior Brady Faust (5-10, 165) returns at wide receiver while senior Joseph Parenti (6-1, 215) emerged as a real threat at tight end a year ago.

“Brady and Erick were solid for us last year,” Bonis said. “They had really good years as starters last year. We have good depth at our receiver spot.”

Up front, the Crusaders appear strong. Senior Zachary Breaux (6-4, 323) is a mountain of a man and an outstanding player while seniors Rhett Fleetwood (6-2, 265) and Joshua Orellana (5-10, 265) return as well.

“I really like our offensive line,” Bonis said. “We have three good starters back and a tight end in Tanner Olsen who puts his hand down and can block. I feel about where we are there.”

Defensively, senior linebacker Brendan Brown (6-1, 215) is outstanding while senior safety Matthew Alfonso (5-10, 195) is a seasoned veteran as well.

Up front, senior John Buchert (6-0, 250) returns while seniors Jabari Watts (5-9, 220) and Benjamin Chaplain (5-9, 193) return at linebacker. Senior Ryan Alfonso (5-9, 169) also returns in the secondary while senior Jordan Carroll (5-9, 166) gained experience a year ago as well.

“Brown, Matthew Alfonso, Ryan Alfonso, Jabari Watts and John Buchert have been with us for three years,” Bonis said. “We only have one returning player in the secondary, which is a concern. We have three new guys back there. I think they are great athletes who just need playing time to improve.”

The schedule opens at home against Petal, Miss. on Sept. 2 before the Crusaders battle an extremely talented Warren Easton squad and travel to always tough Hahnville.

“It is the toughest pre-district schedule we have had in a long time,” Bonis said. “Petal has athletes all over the field, Warren Easton is elite and Hahnville is very, very good.”

District 9-5A play opens on Sept. 22 against defending league champion John Curtis before a showdown with neighborhood rival St. Augustine. Brother Martin steps out of league play to make a long trip to Bastrop in week six before returning to Catholic League action against Holy Cross on Oct. 13.

“The district is the district, tough as always,” Bonis said. “It is arguably the best district in the state. From top to bottom, anybody can beat anybody else. You’ve got great players and great coaches. To win the big ones, you’ve got to progress every day and buy into the process while remaining lucky along the way. You just want to be the very best you can be and district, seeds and success will take care of themselves.”

The final three games of the season are at Joe Yenni Stadium against Rummel, against Shaw and the regular season finale with Jesuit on Nov. 3.

With an experienced quarterback, a good offensive line and some solid defenders returning, do not rule out Bonis and Brother Martin taking that next step with the cigar once again in reach.

“We’ve had a run of some really good players here at Brother Martin that are gone now but I feel we have really good players now, some of whom are underrated,” Bonis said.

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Born and raised in the New Orleans area, CCSE Owner and CEO Ken Trahan has been a sports media fixture in the community for nearly four decades. Ken started NewOrleans.com/Sports with Bill Hammack and Don Jones in 2008. In 2011, the site became SportsNOLA.com. On August 1, 2017, Ken helped launch CrescentCitySports.com. Having accumulated national awards/recognition (National Football Foundation, College…

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