By all accounts, 2014 was a watershed year for Brother Martin football.
Despite competing in a watered down classification (Division I), the improving Crusaders advanced to the state semifinals for the first time reaching the 4A state championship game in 1989.
Entering his seventh year as head coach and his 10th overall at the Gentilly school, Mark Bonis and his program have matured to truly challenge for a state championship.
Brother Martin won the 1971 state championship in a 23-0 whitewash of Catholic League rival St. Augustine for the 4A title.
Last season, the Crusaders pummeled district rival Shaw 63-21 and won a 25-23 thriller at Catholic of Baton Rouge before succumbing to powerhouse John Curtis 40-20 in the semifinals. With a host of key players returning and an infusion of young talent, the Crusaders are poised to make a serious run at reaching the Division I state championship game in 2015.
“We sat down three years ago and we knew that last year’s senior class would be a special class,” Bonis said. “We knew if we worked hard and stayed the course, we could play for a championship. We fell just short but it was the first time in over two decades that we won 10 games. That senior class went through tough times and persevered. They wanted to take it to the next level and not go back to the way it was.”
The enthusiasm begins on offense, where three-year starter Jake Broggi returns at quarterback. Broggi is coming off of a breakthrough season in 2014, completing 146-of-229 passes (64%) for 2,098 yards and 17 touchdowns with just six interceptions while rushing for three scores.
“The programs that I have been a part of have had quarterbacks who started for three or four years,” Bonis said. “You have to tone the offense down initially but once they progress, you can really open up the offense. Jake is really gifted physically and he is a smart kid. He came to us late for his sophomore year. He struggled initially but he improved tremendously from his sophomore to his junior year.”
Broggi has excellent targets, including a big-time wide receiver in junior Jeremy Singleton (6-1, 170). Singleton had 55 catches for 884 yards and six touchdowns a year ago. He already has offers from Cincinnati and Tulane. Junior Andrew McGuire (5-8, 165) had eight catches, including a touchdown grab. Senior Dennis “Trey” Robertson (6-1, 165) is a speedster who could be a wild card.
“We have a great one in Singleton and we are very excited about Robertson, who is a track star for us,” Bonis said. “McGuire is a great route-runner. We are very excited about the perimeter.”
Bolstering the receiving corps, as well as the offensive line are a pair of Division I players at tight end.
Seniors Irv Smith (6-4, 240) and Peyton Aucoin (6-4, 250) are weapons. Smith had 13 receptions for 265 yards and four touchdowns in 2014. Smith is committed to Texas A&M. Aucoin has a host of offers, including from Florida, Michigan, Missouri, Ole Miss, Texas and Tulane.
“Having a pair of tight ends who can block and catch is a big advantage,” Bonis said. “They are very athletic and they will allow us to play the kind of smash-mouth football we want to play while giving us the opportunity for them to make plays down the field. As an offensive coach, I am really excited about our offensive potential.”
The offensive line has a trio of excellent seniors returning, including center Patrick Lynch (5-10, 240), along with guards Victor Quinonez (6-1, 270) and Jacob Clapp (6-0, 245). Justin Runnels is at one tackle. Junior Nicholas Klemm () is expected to step in at the other tackle spot.
Perhaps the biggest weapon is blue-chip running back Bruce Jordan-Swilling (6-2, 217). Jordan-Swilling rushed for 965 yards and 18 touchdowns in 2014 while splitting duties with now graduated Jared West (1,700 yards, 22 touchdowns) and splitting time between running back and linebacker. He will focus on running back in 2015. Jordan-Swilling has offers from Florida, Miami and Oklahoma, among others.
“He is one-sided now, on offense,” Bonis said. “We just believe that he can be special, one of the best in the state. We owe it to him to pick up all the nuances of the running back position. He is so skilled athletically. He is becoming a complete running back. He has speed and he has power. It is exciting to watch.”
Seniors Tyre Lee (5-10, 220) and Zachary Jacomine (5-9, 195) are the lead blockers at fullback for Jordan-Swilling.
Defensively, the Crusaders are young and must replace Brendon Hayes and Jacob Parker up front. Hayes is now at Central Florida. The Crusaders have a trio of players who played extensively a year ago, including senior defensive ends Jordan Taffaro (6-0, 210) and standout Andre Walker (6-1, 215), who has an offer from Southern Illinois.
Two-sport star Vejon Wallis (6-1, 195 Jr.) is very athletic and is a key member of the Brother Martin basketball squad. At defensive tackle, junior Cameron Duplantier (5-10, 220), junior Matthew Clapp (6’0, 240) and John Booker.
While Jordan-Swilling focuses on offense and standout Jonathan Parker graduated, junior Somon Anderson (5-10, 210) returns at inside linebacker and will be joined by junior Rod Thornton (5-7 170) and sophomore Brendan Brown (6-0, 190) at the outside spots. Junior Will Fulham (5-9, 185) will see time, along with senior Blair Joseph (6-0, 196) and brothers Ben (5-6, 175 Sr.) and Patrick Willis (5-8, 170 Jr.).
“The concern on defense is obvious,” Bonis said. “We have some good players but we lost good players who were great leaders. Losing eight starters is tough. The good thing is that we have young players with talent. We have competition at linebacker.The district is going more toward running games. We have guys who played quite a bit up front returning.”
The secondary is led by a Division I prospect in junior cornerback Tre’ Swilling (6-1, 183). Swilling already has offers from LSU and Michigan. Junior Christopher Webb (5-9, 160) will see action, along with twin brothers Ryan (5-8, 150) and Matthew Alfonso (5-10, 170 Soph.). Singleton will play at cornerback as well as a two-way performer.
The Crusaders must replace Tulane signee Roderic Teamer at safety, along with Andrew Benfatti. Seniors Bailey Nuss (6-1, 200) and Taylor Soileau (5-10, 185) will look to fill the void. Senior James Blake will compete as well.
“We like our athletic ability in the secondary,” Bonis said. “Singleton will likely start. He has really taken to the position and we feel he can handle it. That will help us. We are rotating others in at corner. Nuss is big and runs well. He is a soccer player who has really learned football. We have more depth.”
The Crusaders must replace departed Mitchell Boudreaux in the kicking game but have a gifted kick return specialist in Singleton.
“We are still having competition at kicker,” Bonis said. “We feel we will be fine by the start of the season.”
The schedule opens on the road at Plaquemine on Sept. 4. The Green Devils reached the 4A semifinals in 2014. Week two has Brother Martin traveling to face brother school and Mississippi power St. Stanislaus on Sept. 11. Week three has the Crusaders hosting always powerful Karr on Sept. 18 at Tad Gormley Stadium.
“We want to be prepared for district and for the playoffs,” Bonis said. “St. Stanislaus played for a state championship last year. We will face Sulphur, who has a very good running back. We enjoy playing on the road. It brings your kids together and makes you tougher.”
District play opens with a bang with a rematch against John Curtis on Sept. 26 at Gormley before the Crusaders take on St. Augustine in week five. A non-district trip to dangerous Sulphur follows before Brother Martin returns to Gormley to host Holy Cross for Homecoming on Oct. 16.
Week eight has Brother Martin taking on powerful Rummel at Joe Yenni Stadium at Oct. 24 before the Crusaders host Shaw Oct. 30. The regular season closes against defending Division I state champion Jesuit on Nov. 6.
“With Curtis coming in, they are where they need to be,” Bonis said. “We are excited to have them in the league. The teams in our league enjoy playing each other. You want to go against the best and we feel our league takes a back seat to no one. There are outstanding players and coaches. Having Curtis puts us over the top. If you can come out of this district successful, you have accomplished something significant. There are no soft touches.”
While Brother Martin had a tough schedule a year ago, scheduling is becoming tougher for the Crusaders.
“I feel this year’s schedule is tougher than last year’s,” Bonis said. “It is hard to find games when you become good. I guess that is a good thing.”
The concern coming off of last year is the possibility of a letdown.
“Complacency has not set in,” Bonis said. “This group is working very hard, very committed to having success. We feel we have re-established the program and this will be a critical season for us to build on our success.”
With a host of Division I players, an excellent coaching staff and the experience returning, Brother Martin is no longer treading water when swimming with the big boys. The Crusaders now stand a solid chance of taking the next step and reaching the Mercedes-Benz Superdome in December.
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