NATCHITOCHES – Arguably, Gavin Landry should not be running through the purple smoke Saturday on Senior Day at Turpin Stadium.
A sixth-year senior, Landry nearly saw his college football career end before it started, almost come to abrupt end because of an injury and then have it extended by a year because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
As Northwestern State faces Houston Baptist at 3:05 p.m. Saturday in NSU’s home finale, Landry’s winding collegiate career of emotions and mileposts takes another step toward its conclusion.
“I just got chills thinking about it,” an emotional Landry said when recounting his time at Northwestern State. “Everyone has a different story. For me to spend all six years here has been a crazy story.”
The differences in the NSU landscape illustrate just how long Landry’s six-year career has felt.
He predates the current videoboard in the north end zone. His career has kept him here longer concurrently than all but one Demon assistant coach (De’Von Lockett). His arrival in the fall of 2016 coincided with the purple seatback chairs on the west side of Turpin Stadium.
And to think, Landry almost did not have a college football career.
Ahead of his senior year at St. John High School in Plaquemine, Landry was diagnosed with an atrial septal defect in his heart that required surgery and left his athletic future in doubt.
“That put things in perspective,” Landry said after composing himself. “The game might end sooner than I thought it would. We went on all my visits. (Former NSU head) Coach (Jay) Thomas, my dad told him the situation – that I was going to have the surgery and, if things went well, everything would be good to go, and I’d be able to play. I’m thankful for coach Thomas being OK with the situation and for taking a chance on me. I had Division II offers but, ultimately, I felt I could play at the Division I level. I remember a conversation with Coach Lockett my senior year in the parking lot of the Columns, telling me I could play here. To look back on that conversation and to see where I’m at now, it’s a direct reflection of everything I’ve been through here.”
“Everything” includes having to scale the old Turpin Stadium to film practice. It meant working his way down that ladder and up another – the Northwestern State depth chart.
After spending his redshirt freshman and sophomore seasons mainly playing special teams and working on the scout team, Landry had a breakout performance in the 2019 Joe Delaney Bowl, catching five passes for 136 yards and two touchdowns to cement his arrival as a Division I contributor.
“I feel like that was what got me put on scholarship,” Landry said. “To feel like I did my senior year (of high school), when I was struggling with, ‘Why this or why that or why me?’ To know God was working it out and saying, ‘Sit back and watch,’ gives me chills to think about. Looking back, it’s humbling to see God work it all out. I’m truly blessed. Never in a million years when I had that conversation with Coach Lockett in the Columns parking lot did I think I’d be here now.”
Even after that breakout spring, Landry’s roller-coaster ride of a career continued.
There were the highs – his first career catch at UT Martin on Aug. 29, 2019 and his first career touchdown grab at Nicholls near his hometown of White Castle on Oct. 12 – and there was another gut-punch of a low.
During Northwestern State’s Homecoming game against Central Arkansas, Landry hauled in a seam route from Shelton Eppler and had one Bear defender to beat. Landry did so, shaking the defender and scoring a touchdown on a career-long, 54-yard reception. However, in the process of making the defender miss the tackle, Landry tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee, ending his season after seven games.
Again, Landry was faced with questions as he fought his way back to health. Months later, Landry’s kinship with a fellow sixth-year senior would deepen.
Kendrick Price Jr. came to Northwestern State the same fall as Landry as a scholarship receiver. As Landry was rehabbing his torn ACL in spring 2020, Price suffered the same injury after a breakout 2019 campaign.
After four-plus years of sharing meeting rooms and roster spaces, Landry’s and Price’s careers were at the same place again as they pushed each other to return to the field.
“You can look at all 10 (seniors who will be honored Saturday) and the ups and downs, the adversity and the great times,” said fourth-year head coach Brad Laird, whose third tour of duty on the NSU coaching staff started a year after Landry and Price arrived on campus. “Gavin and Kendrick Price are two guys who overcome injuries to be were they are now, to have the opportunity to compete on Saturday afternoons. As you look back and reflect on their journeys, it makes it exciting to see where they’ve come from to where they are now.”
Landry said he sees a different type of reflection when he looks at Price.
“Our relationship is special,” Landry said. “We clicked from the day we got here. He welcomed me with open arms. The wins and losses come and go, but the relationship we’ve been able to build will extend long past this game. The Bible talks about ‘iron sharpens iron,’ and that’s a direct reflection of the relationship we have. We hold each other accountable, making sure we’re setting the standard. Us being sixth-year guys we have to set the standard day in and day out, how we practice, our daily habits, our daily routine.
“We’ve been through the ACL together and everything that entailed. We both had those mental days where you struggle, and it’s just tough, and you feel like no one’s there. Then you have someone in your room who went through it, someone you look at as a brother. It’s special and will extend far past us playing together at NSU.”
Since stepping into the starting lineup as a slot receiver in 2019, Landry has caught 66 passes for 630 yards and three touchdowns in addition to throwing a touchdown pass at Southeastern in the spring 2021 season.
As Landry’s prepares for one last pregame run through the purple smoke at Turpin Stadium, he said he hopes his impact and his legacy extends past the numbers.
“This was my childhood dream,” Landry said. “I’m thankful for every day I’m out there. I’m thankful for the road I’ve walked and had to persevere through all those things. The lessons I’ve learned during that time will pay dividends long after this game ends, and I will take them with me into my daily life.
“When it’s all said and done, I just want to have my teammates be able to look back and look at someone who did it the right way. I’m far from perfect, but I want to be remembered as someone who controlled the things I could control. For the undersized guys or those who have been under-recruited, I want them to say, ‘If he can do it, I can do it.’ That’s the biggest example I try to set – whether it’s a walk-on here or someone back at home in Plaquemine, White Castle or the Baton Rouge area – someone can see what I was able to do and have the belief in themselves that if he can do it, I can do it.”
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