Daryl Thomas takes over struggling Bonnabel program
It is not a job for the weary.
Bonnabel High School football was outstanding in the 1970’s under legendary head coach Willie Hof.
The Bruins, led by future Alabama star and Allstate Sugar Bowl Greater New Orleans Sports Hall of Fame inductee Tommy Wilcox, reached the state championship game in 1977, falling 21-20 to Bobby Hebert and South Lafourche.
Bonnabel had a couple of other good seasons and then were good again under Mike Villemarette in the late 1980’s and early 1990’s.
Since that time, it has been a struggle for several head coaches who have tried their luck at the head coaching position.
Now, a veteran coach gets a second chance as the head coach of a struggling program.
Daryl Thomas was named head coach of the Bruins in late July.
Thomas comes to Bonnabel from Pope John Paul II, where he served as an assistant football coach for three years (2011-13) and was the head coach in 2014-15. Thomas also coached girls basketball and was the head track and field coach. Thomas remained at Pope John Paul II in 2016, though he did not coach football.
Thomas was an assistant at O. Perry Walker (2010-11) and served and served as an assistant at Grace King (2008-09).
Thomas was an assistant coach at his alma mater, De La Salle, from 2002-07, where he also was a girls basketball and track coach.
Thomas played at De La Salle, graduating in 1993 before earning an undergraduate degree from Southern University of New Orleans and a graduate degree from the University of New Orleans.
Thomas is no stranger to rebuilding and to coaching a struggling program. His Pope John Paul II teams were 2-18 in two seasons.
Thomas replaces Reggie Rogers, who was dismissed in February after six years (2011-16) on the job as head coach. Rogers, a former Bonnabel star player, posted a 17-41 mark. The Bruins were just 2-8 in 2016 and were 7-33 in their last four seasons with the last winning season coming in 2012.
“It is outstanding to have another opportunity be be a head coach again,” Thomas said. “It is something I love doing. I am blessed to be at Bonnabel. There is a rich history here though it has not been good recently. It takes hard work to do so.”
Thomas knows the task at hand will not be an easy one.
“It is going to be a difficult job,” Thomas said. “That is why it was an open job for so long. You have to get the community involved, the feeder schools involved, playgrounds involved, alumni back involved. It is like starting over.”
While his tenure at Pope John Paul II did not go well, Thomas feels it was a valuable experience.
“What I have learned from being head coach at Pope John Paul II is to keep moving forward,” Thomas said. “There will be a lot of negativity coming at you from all sides but you have to ignore those things and move forward. You have to learn from mistakes and not repeat them.”
Thomas feels there is one necessity to being a successful head coach
“I learned that you must have communication along all lines, with parents, administrators, coaches and players,” Thomas said. “If you are a good communicator, they will work with you and want to be involved with you. Everyone wants to emulate what John Curtis has done. J.T. is a good communicator and that has helped his program.”
The cupboard is not totally bare at Bonnabel heading into the 2017 season.
“We have some good players, a good bit of returning seniors,” Thomas said. “The seniors are trying to lead everyone the right way. Henry White (6-1, 195) will be our middle linebacker and a good one. He is hands down the team leader, a great kid. He had a pretty good season last year. He is a good tackler.”
Thomas has high praise for another returning starter on defense.
“Byron Smith (6-1, 220) is another senior and a good defensive end with a high motor,” Thomas said. “He plays hard and is very strong. He will seal the edge and force everything inside. We have a junior corner in Albert Bontemps (5-11, 155). He has talent and can really run. He has a eye and knack for the ball.”
Bonnabel has a returning starter at the most important position.
“We have our quarterback returning in senior Jordan McInerney (5-10, 185),” Thomas said. “He understands football. He’s coming off of a decent season but the way we will run the spread offense, he should be improved.”
The running back position will be a group effort with one wild card.
“The guy we are looking at the carry the load is junior Ernest Williams,” Thomas said. “He is tough and has good size (5-10, 215). He is versatile. He played offensive line, linebacker and defensive line last year. He has pretty good speed to go with size and he has dropped a little weight. He should be hard to tackle.”
Bonnabel has a wealth of younger players to build with.
“We are a junior-heavy team with 17 juniors but we have 17 sophomores as well so we like our future,” Thomas said. “They can become our leaders and work in our system and improve. We should have about 55 kids on our varsity.”
What will it take for Thomas to succeed where others have failed since the turn of the century?
“I truly believe and know we can be successful and we have to be a big-time program that champions Kenner and keeps Kenner kids at home in what will be a good program in the future,” Thomas said. “We have to convince kids that we are a viable, solid option and school. It can be done.”
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Born and raised in the New Orleans area, CCSE 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 Sports Media Association, National Football…