By Charlie Pinkerton
In the corner of a packed classroom stands all 6-foot-2, 220 pounds of Kervens Bonhomme. In any other room of high-schoolers he might naturally be a beacon for attention. But in this one, all attention’s on his much smaller, much more exuberant mentor as he sounds off at the front of the class.
Jean Guillaume sits atop a desk in front of his team, lecturing. It’s lunch hour, and summer vacation is only weeks away. Still, a group of black and yellow-clad boys sit and listen to their coach talk about the fall football season that’s months away.
The coach jumps from topic to topic; he talks to his team about the importance of respect, then he switches to a speech about proper behaviour, then to practice protocols. After rattling off about a half minute speech on the importance of packing a health lunch he asks the room, “If you’re getting faster, who’s getting faster?”
“The team,” the boys respond collectively.
His team sits attentively, sure not to interrupt, while some snicker at a few of Guillaume’s more comical motivational quips, like when he tells the room they better not come to school dressed “like they’re going to the club.”
The classroom is the sort of scene you can’t help but think Guillaume’s trying to emulate from Remember the Titans or Any Given Sunday, and it’s one he’s unapologetically proud of. It’s the brand he’s built at St. Matthew High School. It’s Tiger culture. And who it’s rubbed off on the most, that’s Bonhomme.
“Some people say I’m crazy,” Guillaume tells his team. “I’m not crazy, I just try to replicate the best.”
Guillaume started playing football late, he says. But upon picking up the sport, he developed a knack for the game and was encouraged by a high school coach and former mentor of his own to get into instruction once he could no longer play.
Though he initially pursued policing, Guillaume said he couldn’t shake the desire to be a football coach. He was encouraged by colleagues to enrol in teacher’s college while it remained a one-year program. At the time he was a social worker working in the Catholic school board.
After receiving his teaching degree and while serving as a “professional volunteer,” as he called it, he went to St. Matthew’s to register a young boy who he felt would be better served with an English education. While at St. Matthew’s, he heard the school was looking for a football coach, so he offered to do it himself.
Days later, Guillaume interviewed for a teaching position, was hired and became the Tigers new head coach. Guillaume set out with his signature coaching style, which he called a “holistic approach,” borrowing the phrase from his social worker days. He says he monitors his players’ grades and has a volunteering mandate for them. In the past his team has done other community outreach such as cleaning churches and singing in a choir.
Bonhomme first met Guillaume at a track meet during the 2015-16 school year, Guillaume’s first as a teacher.
The coach approached the then-Grade 10 student and asked if he played football. Bonhomme was a student in the French school board at the time and was playing football outside of school in Gatineau. At the meet, he and Guillaume talked about the coach’s vision for the St. Matthew’s team.
“I thought he had a good idea, but there’s no such thing as that in Canada. I thought that you have to play in the States for that,” Bonhomme said. But he accepted an invitation from Guillaume to train with his team anyway.
“I never trained before, so I didn’t know what to expect. I got there, and I swear, I’d never trained that hard before in my life. I was in bed the whole next day. I thought in my head that there was no way I was going back,” he said.
By fall he was enrolled at St. Matthew’s. That season, the Tigers won their first ever OFSAA championship.
“That was a really special team. I don’t know if there’s ever going to be another team like that,” Bonhomme said.
In an endless list of praise for Bonhomme, Guillaume called him “relentless,” and said he “always listened.” Bonhomme was encouraged by Guillaume to transfer to Canada Prep Academy in Welland, Ont. last year. The academy is an elite-level program that plays a full away schedule against U.S. high schools. That experience helped Bonhomme score a full athletic scholarship to Florida’s Clearwater Academy International.
Without their star defender last year, St. Matthew’s repeated as city champs but lost their OFSAA bowl game against a team from Newmarket.
With some of his former teammates in Guillaume’s classroom back in May, Bonhomme listened to the familiar routine of his former coach, just days before he had to depart for Clearwater. For Bonhomme, who is the 2nd ranked Canadian football prospect (according to CanadaFootballChat.com), his summer has since been filled with highly touted training camp appearances and program visits at NCAA schools, some of which Guillaume has joined him on.
In June, Bonhomme committed to joining the Indiana Hoosiers upon his graduation in the spring.
“A special thank you to Coach Jean for truly believing in a kid since Day 1 and showing me that anything is possible if you put your mind to it,” Bonhomme said in a tweet announcing his commitment.
“This is the perfect example of a kid of when people say hard work pays off,” Guillaume said of Bonhomme.
The St. Matthew Tigers are currently preparing for a trip to the inaugural Freedom Football tournament in Milton, Georgia. They’ll play the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Eagles, from Parkland, Fl. Only six months ago, 17 people, including an assistant football coach, were killed at the school in a shooting.