Northwestern State N-Clubbers celebrate memories of championships past

Famed strength and conditioning coach Al Miller summed up what each N-Club Hall of Fame ceremony represents when he paraphrased Alabama football legend Paul ‘Bear’ Bryant, whom Miller served under toward the beginning of his career.

“All the money you earn, you give it away. All the championship rings, you give that away, too,” Miller said. “What’s left are the memories.”

For the nine members and three honorees of the 2020 N-Club Hall of Fame class that had to wait an extra year for their induction because of the COVID-19 pandemic, their memories and emotions swelled even more than in normal years.

Friends and family can relive Saturday’s ceremony on NSU’s YouTube channel NSUDemons.

Tears flowed freely, even from former NFL defensive lineman Robert Daniel (Carolina Panthers).

Daniel wasn’t recruited much after one year of high school football, just by NSU coach Sam Goodwin who kept seeing these pair of white cleats blur across grainy film from this tight end who wasn’t very good.

Daniel, who transitioned to the defensive line and eventually All-Southland Conference status before his two-year NFL career was cut short by injury, never thought about football as his path.

“I knew I couldn’t play around in my life because I had to be able to afford my size 18 shoes,” Daniel said, recalling what his mom used to tell him. “I was hit by a van at nine years old racing my brothers home and told not to play contact sports.

“I was a basketball player who tried out for football my senior year.”

Daniel blossomed as part of the 1997 and 1998 Southland Conference championship teams, finishing his career with 142 tackles and 10 sacks.

Teammate Tony Taylor didn’t dream of the NFL either.

The all-time rushing leader at NSU developed his agile movements on the soccer field, only putting emphasis on football because of his older brother Dwayne.

Taylor, a freshman on the at 1998 championship team, needed just three seasons to rush for 3,997 yards, which included a school record 1,507 as an All-American in his junior and final season.

“If you would have known me on the streets of Pineville, you definitely wouldn’t think I’d be standing here,” said Taylor, who is an education administrator and has a doctorate’s degree. “But my football and track coaches never let me just settle for anything, and they always allowed room for my creativity.

“I felt like it was my civic duty to give back to the youth after all that was given to me.”

Defensive back and return specialist Terrence McGee arrived in 1999 on the heels of consecutive championships, but he credits the NSU coaching staff for sticking with him in the return game, which led to an 11-year NFL career.

“The last game of my freshman year was against Stephen F. Austin, and (the special teams coach) wanted to try me in the return game,” McGee said. “I fumbled the first kick, the second kick bounced between me and another guy (SFA recovered) and I fumbled the third kick.

“The next year, the coaches wanted to put me in the return game again. I said, ‘Do you not remember the SFA game?’ But our main returner Nathan Black got hurt, and I ended up returning two kickoffs for touchdowns against Southern.”

McGee set a then-NCAA record with a 23.7-yard average as an All-American punt returner in 2000, including three touchdowns.

He broke most of NSU’s return records and is recognized as the Buffalo Bills best return man in franchise history.

Point guard La’Terrica “Cooda” Dobin knows about leading the country in a statistic.

Dobin is the only player in college basketball history – male or female – to lead Division I in assists for three straight seasons.

Her career average of 8.2 assists per game ranks eighth in NCAA history as she led the Lady Demons to the 2004 Southland Conference title and NCAA Tournament appearance.

“(NSU coach James Smith) and I were kind of like oil and water, but he wanted me to trust him,” Dobin said. “He said, ‘If I tell you that a chicken could pull a train, you better buy a ticket.’

“We did build that trust.”

The NSU track and field family was well represented with three inductees who were primary track and field athletes and two others who competed part-time.

Distance runner Randy Moore put copious amounts of trust in his teammates Leo Gatson and Frank Trammel, both of whom presented him at the ceremony and are already N-Club Hall of Famers.

Moore distinguished himself in the steeple chase, where he set the state and school records with an 8:52.40, an NSU mark that still stands today.

“The event was pretty new, and NSU didn’t have a water pit or wooden barriers to practice the 3,000-meter steeplechase,” Moore recalled. “But I can’t thank my teammates and coach Jerry Dyes enough.

“I couldn’t break a 4:30 mile coming into NSU, but with Dyes and my teammates pushing me, I was running under 4:10 by the end of my college career.”

Jumper Stephanie Sowell had programs from across the country coming to Natchitoches Parish to lure the local product away, but her familiarity with NSU and its elite program set the stage for Sowell’s four All-American honors at the NCAA Indoor Championships.

Sowell was a two-time national participant in the long and triple jumps, taking silver in 2004 to pair with her eight Southland Conference titles.

“(Jumps coach Dean Johnson) said I never complained, but I complained a lot in my head,” recalled Sowell, who still owns NSU’s triple mark at 43-1. “My coaches like J.D. Garrett, LaMark Carter and Dean Johnson worked the mess out of me, but it was worth it.”

Javelin thrower Regina Roe became the first Lady Demon to qualify for multiple NCAA Outdoor Championships in 1999 and 2000, setting a then-school record 166-9 to win the SLC Championship.

NSU coach Mike Heimerman remembers taking over the javelin midseason from head coach Leon Johnson, and he credits Roe’s success to her stubbornness.

“Regina was an incredible athlete who did things her way,” Heimerman said. “She suffered two injuries playing intramural softball even though we told her not to play it, but she was strong enough to come back from those and still do great things.”

Linette Stuart followed Roe as the SLC Champion javelin thrower after an illustrious softball career, but it was Stuart’s time on the diamond that set her apart.

The walk-on was a four-time All-Southland Conference performer that set school career records in batting average (.331) and stolen bases (78) as part of three Southland Conference championship squads.

“It’s an honor and a privilege, and I couldn’t have done it without the team support,” Stuart said. “My older sister Laura was a big guide for me.

“I was a walk-on who got my chance. I knew it was going to be hard and a challenge, but I thank my coaches for giving me that chance.”

Baseball outfielder Jordan Robison assaulted the NSU record books in his two seasons, finishing runner-up for the 2001 SLC Player of the Year en route to being drafted in the 14th round of the MLB Draft.

He ended his career in the top 10 in 10 different categories, including career batting average (.356) and slugging percentage (.623) with 11 triples.

The Idaho native found his way to Louisiana despite head coach John Cohen not understanding what the acronym ‘LDS’ stood for.

“Learning Disabled Students?” NSU baseball supporter David Stamey recalls Cohen asking him on a phone call. “You mean Latter Day Saints, as in Mormons, right coach?”

Robison signed with NSU anyway, becoming one of the most beloved figures by the NSU and Natchitoches communities.

“I got the nickname ‘Mayor’ because I would talk to all of the fans and thank them for supporting us,” Robison said. “I love the community and the people here so much.

“I had a lot of firsts here. My first crawfish boil, first drive-through liquor store as the designated driver who didn’t drink, the first time opposing fans called me Mr. Potato Head because they scouted the opposing players (LSU). A very special time here.”

Two NSU alumni who dedicated a large part of themselves to make Natchitoches special are Terry Alario, Sr., and Terry Alario Jr., recipients of the Distinguished Service Award.

They are the first-known father-son duo in NSU baseball history with the father pitching from 1966-69 and the son catching in 1993-94.

The duo created the Alario 22 endowed scholarship to represent their jersey numbers in addition to supporting all NSU athletics teams.

“To me this award is about is being a great teammate, which means being loyal, compassionate, passionate, sacrifice and knowing your role,” said Alario Jr.

Added Alario Sr., “This is a great honor, and nothing can be more satisfying than getting this award with my son and being presented by my daughter (Joy).”

Al Miller received the N-Club’s first-ever Pioneer Award, working across the country as a strength and conditioning coach in college football and the NFL.

He first debuted his ideas at NSU as an assistant from 1975-78, which eventually led to a 23-year NFL career, an NFL Lifetime Achievement Award and a spot in the inaugural USA Strength and Conditioning Hall of Fame.

“I was 12 years old when I lost my dad, and I was going down the wrong street, and my mom knew it,” Miller said. “She had to get a positive male role model in my life.

“There was this man who lifted weights in the back of a beauty shop in El Dorado, Arkansas. I did three or four sets of curls, and he measured that my arm grew by half an inch. I was hooked.”