NSU Football: Championship DNA prevalent in Northwestern State signing class

Brad Laird has stressed attention to detail since taking over as the football coach of his alma mater prior to the 2018 season.

One look at Northwestern State’s football signing class of 2020 makes it clear Laird feels the same way when it comes to recruiting.

Laird and his staff introduced their full signing class in the ballroom of the Friedman Student Union on Wednesday afternoon, introducing the 15 high school signees and eight junior-college transfers who comprise the group.

“One thing you look at with the 23 signees, you look at their GPA and you see championships,” Laird said. “When I say GPA, you look at the bios and you see a lot of 3.0 GPAs and above and a lot of championships. I believe what you do on the field and off the field will work together to create championships. This class is very balanced from an offensive and defensive standpoint, which is where we thought we would be.”

The Demons signed 12 offensive players, 10 defensive players and one specialist for the 2020 season.

Offensively, Northwestern State added four linemen, four wide receivers, a trio of running backs and one tight end.

The Demons split their four offensive line signees between the junior college and high school ranks.

Jones County Junior College’s Logan Canerdy (6-3, 295) and Navarro College’s Jalen Momerelle (6-6, 305) bring championship experience with them. Canerdy helped Jones County win the Mississippi Bowl as a freshman while Momerelle, who started seven games at Texas State as a freshman, was a key part of Navarro’s 2019 state championship team.

That duo is paired with high school signees Jordan McClaine (6-3, 280) of Ruston and Brayden Staggs (6-4, 285) of Langham Creek (Texas) High School. Staggs was a three-star prospect as rated by 247Sports.com while McClaine was one of 10 players who signed with the Demons in the December early signing period.

“It starts up front,” Laird said. “We lost five guys on the offensive line who went on to graduate, so you have to find guys who can come in and play. We did it in a couple of ways. We have two older guys who have experience and a couple of younger guys coming from programs that will allow them the opportunity to compete right away. It was the same thing at wide receiver. We have older guys with experience and younger guys from successful programs. That was the vision we have when you look at last year and where we are at 2020.”

Junior college products Marquise Bridges (6-1, 193) was the second-leading receiver for the national champion Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College squad while Andy Pierre-Antoine (6-1, 180) helped lead Reedley College to a pair of conference championships.

Bridges snagged 43 passes for 782 yards and six touchdowns and was a Mississippi Association of Community and Junior Colleges All-Academic Team selection while Pierre-Antoine led Reedley with 44 catches, 706 yards and eight touchdowns.

The Demons went to New Orleans to add two prep receivers, bringing St. Augustine’s Jaheim Walters (6-2, 184) and Warren Easton’s Jewell Holmes III to the fold.

The thread of successful junior college transfers continued through the offensive backfield as the Demons added Kilgore College’s Scooter Adams (5-9, 190) and College of the Canyons’ Cayden Dunn (5-10, 190), a pair of speedsters to the running back rotation.

Adams was an early signee who already is on campus while Dunn will join the fold later as will Lafayette Christian Academy’s Logan Gabriel, who also was a December signee.

Both Adams and Dunn played at championship programs with Kilgore winning the conference regular-season title and a Heart of Texas Bowl championship while Dunn’s College of the Canyons collected consecutive division titles in its conference. Dunn averaged six yards per carry in his two seasons at College of the Canyons while Adams proved to be a versatile running back, capable of catching passes as well.

“With where our roster is at the running back position, you have immediate needs as we go through the 15 days of spring practice and the summer,” Laird said. “I’m looking forward to seeing the guys we’re talking about here on National Signing Day develop from now until that first game (against Incarnate Word) on Sept. 3.”

Monte Johnson, a 6-foot-5, 220-pound tight end from Burleson (Texas) Centennial High School, rounded out the Demons’ offensive signees. Johnson, like many of the signing class, is a multi-sport athlete who also plays on Centennial’s top-10 ranked basketball team.

Defensively, the Demons went a little more balanced with a focus on the secondary.

NSU inked six defensive backs in its 2020 class, starting with East Mississippi Community College’s PJ Herrington, part of the Lions’ national championship team in 2018.

Herrington was an early signee and already is on campus while the remainder of the defensive backs in the class are all high school signees: Captain Shreve’s Malik Carey, Natea “Tay” Coleman of Beaumont (Texas) West Brook, Kevin Davis Jr. of Freeport (Texas) Brazosport, Isaiah Robinson of Parkway in Bossier City and Dante Thomas of longtime Louisiana power John Curtis High School.

“(Safety) was and will continue to be a focus, because recruiting is happening 365 days a year,” Laird said. “This is National Signing Day, but we will continue to recruit. We lost five safeties who graduated and took a lot of experience with them.

“We’re bringing in guys with experience plus guys who come from programs that have won championships and play right way. It’s the same way at corner, and then you see the guys who have the ability to play both spots. That excites us.”

The remainder of Northwestern State’s defensive signees had a distinctive Louisiana flavor, something Laird has focused on in recent recruiting cycles.

“We have seven signees within a two-hour radius and another from right across the state line,” Laird said. “Four of them are from north Louisiana. You look at that two-hour radius, it’s something we’ve talked about since Day 1. There is good talent in that radius.”

Up front, the Demons added size in North DeSoto’s Johnny Mitchell Jr. (6-3, 310) and a versatile force in Crowley’s Kendal Harmon (6-2, 273). Mitchell is a three-time state indoor shot put champion who also plans to compete in track and field at Northwestern State. Harmon compiled 247 career tackles, including 41 for a loss, and had an interception return for a touchdown.

At the linebacker level, the Demons added another Lafayette Christian product in Princeton Malbrue (6-2, 205), the Defensive Most Valuable Player of the Knights’ state championship game victory in December, and Gilmer (Texas) High linebacker Malik Williams, who was an all-district selection as both a fullback and a linebacker.

The Demons also added Trinity Valley Community College kicker Eddie Godina, an NJCAA All-American who connected on a national JUCO record 26 field goals and already has enrolled at Northwestern State.

“Not only from a football standpoint, but the opportunity for families to be able to watch their kids was a big factor in these young men making that decision to stay close to home,” Laird said. “They can say, ‘Mom and Dad can see me play on Saturday afternoon or Saturday night and get back home. Family’s important to us at Northwestern State just like the people. You see that across the board with these 23 signees. The people they will bring with them and the enthusiasm they bring excites us as a staff.”

2020 Northwestern State Signing Class 23 signees (15 high school, 8 junior college)

Scooter Adams, RB, 5-9, 190, Kilgore College, Hallettsville, Texas
Marquise Bridges, WR, 6-1, 193, Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College, Brookhaven Mississippi
Logan Canerdy, OL, 6-3, 295, Jones County Junior College, Caledonia, Mississippi
Malik Carey, CB, 6-2, 185, Captain Shreve HS, Shreveport, Louisiana
Natea “Tay” Coleman, S, 6-0, 185, West Brook HS, Beaumont, Texas
Kevin Davis Jr., S, 6-0, 180, Brazosport HS, Freeport, Texas
Cayden Dunn, RB, 5-10, 190, College of the Canyons, Los Angeles, California
Logan Gabriel, RB, 5-11, 220 Lafayette Christian Academy, Opelousas, Louisiana
Eddie Godina, K, 5-11, 195, Trinity Valley Community College, Whitehouse, Texas
Kendal Harmon, DL, 6-2, 273, Crowley HS, Crowley, Louisiana
PJ Herrington, DB, 5-10, 185, East Mississippi Community College, Natchez, Mississippi
Jewell Holmes III, WR, 6-2, 188, Warren Easton HS, New Orleans, Louisiana
Monte Johnson, TE, 6-5, 220, Burleson Centennial HS, Burleson, Texas
Princeton Malbrue, OLB, 6-2, 205, Lafayette Christian Academy, Carencro, Louisiana
Jordan McClaine, OL, 6-3, 280, Ruston HS, Ruston, Louisiana
Johnny Mitchell Jr., DL, 6-3, 310, North DeSoto HS, Stonewall, Louisiana
Jalen Momerelle, OL, 6-6, 305, Navarro College, Houston, Texas
Andy Pierre-Antoine, WR, 6-1, 180, Reedley College, North Miami, Florida
Isaiah Robinson, DB, 6-1, 185, Parkway HS, Bossier City, Louisiana
Brayden Staggs, OL, 6-4, 285, Langham Creek HS, Cypress, Texas
Dante Thomas, DB, 6-0, 175, John Curtis HS, Hammond, Louisiana
Jaheim Walters, WR, 6-2, 184, St. Augustine HS, New Orleans, Louisiana
Malik Williams, LB, 6-0, 205, Gilmer HS, Gilmer, Texas

Photo Credit: Leah Jackson/Northwestern State University