Troy Bonterre is a cross between Bruce Smith and Bruce Lee. Is it any wonder he makes his Buffalo Bandits teammates feel secure?
"I like playing my role, knowing my teammates are safe," said Bonterre, a 6-foot-3, 260-pound defenseman who has been studying martial arts for about 14 years. "They know they can come to me and say, 'look, I'm having this problem.' I like being depended on like that."
Bonterre, 27, is the most impressive physical specimen the Bandits have had in their 15-year history. In warm-ups his T-shirt reveals arms more likely to be found on a defensive end like Smith, the NFL's career sack leader.
"He's definitely the biggest, strongest guy I've ever been around," said head coach Darris Kilgour, whose Bandits (5-4) start the first of three remaining back-to-back weekend series with tonight's road game (8 p.m., Radio 1520 AM) against the Minnesota Swarm (6-5) and Saturday night's tilt against the Rochester Knighthawks (7-5) at HSBC Arena.
"There were some other guys in the OLA [Ontario Lacrosse Association] that were a lot dirtier and meaner, but in terms of looks, he has to be the most intimidating."
Bonterre is part of a deep defensive unit with the Bandits, who run a system he's still learning. As a result, he's not dressing nearly as much as he did when he played 27 games with the Arizona Sting over the past two seasons.
"Sometimes it's frustrating but I know my role," said Bonterre, who has played in two games this season with seven loose balls and 12 penalty minutes. Kilgour expects him to play at least one game this weekend. "Some teams don't have a lot of tough guys, just real quick guys. They'll let me know when they need me. I keep my head up."
Bonterre's physique is the result of weight training, martial arts and manual labor. He's serving a carpentry apprenticeship in Owen Sound, Ont., and has been building houses for about five years. The martial arts helps in other parts of his game besides fighting.
"He has very quick feet for a big guy," said Bandits assistant coach Troy Cordingley, who runs the defense. "He's still young and he's learning our defensive system, which is quite a bit different from the traditional approach. It's taken him a while to get familiar with it but I can definitely see he's beginning to catch up."
Bonterre, who was traded to the Bandits in the offseason, played in 13 games with the Sting last year.
His prowess as a fighter was enhanced last summer, when as a member of the OLA's Six Nations Chiefs, he fought Tim O'Brien of the Brampton Excelsiors. In the winter, O'Brien plays for the Toronto Rock and has been voted the NLL's best fighter by his peers.
"He's the champ but it was a good fight," said Bonterre, who scored four goals and 10 points with the Chiefs in 15 games. "It was over quick. He had me tied up so I threw him around a bit. There are guys in this league who are more technical than I am but I'm lucky because I can just overpower them, throw them where I want them to go."
As far as Bonterre is concerned, once the gloves are picked up and the penalties called, the hostilities end.
"That's what I love about this sport," Bonterre said. "You can battle on the floor but what happens on the floor stays on the floor. You can still go out with the guy afterward. I know most of the tough guys in this league and consider them friends. We have a blast. But once we're on the floor, it's like we don't even know each other."