Even in a chaotic period of transition, the Northwestern State football coaching staff was able to find balance in its recruiting efforts.
The Demons signed eight players on Wednesday’s National Signing Day, adding that to the 11-member early signing class from December. The breakdown on either side of the ball was nearly equal.
“When you combine the two signing periods, you see balance,” said head coach Brad Laird, who begins his fifth season at the helm of his alma mater in September. “When you look at the 19 young men we have signed, you have 11 on offense and eight on defense. We feel like all of them have the opportunity to come in, compete and help this football team this fall.”
Northwestern State’s spring signing class comprised four high school signees, three Division I transfers and a junior college transfer.
The Demons added at all three levels of the offense Wednesday, signing receivers T.J. Johnson (Alexandria Senior High), Jaren Mitchell (Northern Colorado) and Hogan Wasson (Colleyville Heritage HS), offensive linemen Rod Chaney (Kilgore College) and Teeshaun Turpin (North Texas) and running back London Williams (Many High School).
Johnson comes up I-49 to Natchitoches after playing for a state championship at NSU’s Turpin Stadium in December 2020. A four-year letterman, Johnson has been a mainstay on the All-CENLA football and basketball teams in his ASH career.
Mitchell set Northern Colorado’s freshman records for catches (48) and yardage (740) in 2019 while Wasson tallied more than 1,100 receiving yards for a Colleyville Heritage team that reached the Texas regional semifinals.
Turpin and Chaney each helped pave the way for explosive rushing attacks at North Texas and Kilgore, respectively. Turpin helped the Mean Green rush for more than 3,000 yards in 2021 and average 230 yards per game on the ground in 2020.
Behind Chaney and his offensive linemates, Kilgore averaged 542.9 yards per game, including 198.6 per game on the ground. Chaney became the third member of Kilgore’s 2021 team to sign with NSU, joining running backs Kennieth Lacy and Garrison Johnson, who signed in December.
A two-year starter at Many, Williams rushed for 1,501 yards for the Tigers’ state title team in 2020 and nearly doubled that, exploding for 2,646 rushing yards and 47 touchdowns as Many again reached the Class 2A state title game this past December.
“First, you look at the receivers,” Laird said. “We lost some quality receivers last year, and we’ve been trying to replace them. Schematically, the direction we’re going offensively, we wanted to make sure we were able to get some receivers in here. We did, and we will continue to work toward that.
“The four running backs, the ability they have to not just run the football but to catch it as well. They can do a lot of different things. You won’t just see them in the backfield. On the offensive line, we added a couple of key guys, and that position will continue to be a work in progress as we go into spring and summer.”
While defense was a key focal point in NSU’s early signing class, the Demons added two more defenders Wednesday.
Defensive back Jabari Reddock is a transfer from Stony Brook while linebacker Danny Sears continued his family’s Demon legacy, signing with NSU after a standout career at St. Paul’s in Covington.
Reddock had 40 tackles in his Stony Brook career while adding three pass breakups and two sacks. He also played a pivotal role in the Seawolves’ special teams units.
Sears capped a record-setting career at St. Paul’s with a standout senior season that saw him make 139 tackles (14 for loss), 10 sacks, six quarterback hurries and three fumble recoveries. A two-way player, Sears added three rushing touchdowns while establishing the school career record for tackles.
“We have eight guys we’ve signed on defense, and it is about as balanced as you can get from the front end all the way to the back,” Laird said. “We’ve signed three defensive linemen, and when you look at going to a four-man front schematically, we had to fill some holes and we did that. We were able to sign three linebackers and a couple of defensive backs. We needed to add predominantly safeties, and we were able to do that.”
While Sears did not play for a state title in Turpin Stadium in 2020, he joins Williams and Johnson as February signees whose ties to Northwestern State go deeper than a signature on a piece of paper.
Sears’ father, Ken, and his older brother, Kenny, both were Demon lettermen.
“They’re not only good football players, but they’re good storylines for the future,” Laird said. “Many, not too long ago, winning a state championship here in Turpin Stadium. ASH playing for a state championship. Getting London and TJ from around here is huge for us. Then you look at the family connection that Danny Sears has to the university and what his family has meant to this university. It’s great for him to have the opportunity to follow in that legacy.”
Laird credited his coaching staff with pulling together to land a versatile class despite turnover among his assistant coaches.
“Look at what the existing staff was able to do in December, signing guys without coordinators on either side of the ball at that time,” Laird said. “It started with (safeties) coach (Josh) Jones and the job he did as recruiting coordinator and the job the other coaches did and the time they spent on the road. Then you tie in the existing staff with the new staff as we moved into the second recruiting period. It was definitely different.
“A lot changed from the early signing period to this signing period, but you look at the class and you see we’ve added pieces to the puzzle as we continue to move forward.”
2022 Northwestern State Football Signing Class list
Ronnie Caldwell, DB, 5-11, 195, Austin, Texas, Cedar Park HS/Tyler JC
Rod Chaney, OL, 6-6, 330, Houston, Texas, Alief Elsik HS/Kilgore College
Ray Gibson, DL, 6-2, 305, Philadelphia, Mississippi, Neshoba Central HS/East Central CC
Garrison Johnson, RB, 5-11, 212, Manvel, Texas, Manvel HS/Kilgore College
T.J. Johnson, WR, 6-4, 175, Alexandria, Louisiana, Alexandria Senior HS
Kennieth Lacy, RB, 5-9, 185, Kilgore, Texas, Kilgore HS/Kilgore College
JaQuon Lott, DL, 6-4, 315, Lambert, Mississippi, Madison S. Palmer HS/Itawamba CC
Matt Mabry, OL, 6-3, 305, Mendenhall, Mississippi, Mendenhall HS/Jones College
Jaren Mitchell, WR, 5-10, 185, Aubrey, Texas, Hebron HS/Northern Colorado
Tory Morgan, LB, 5-11, 213, New Orleans, Louisiana, Edna Karr HS
Zach Patterson, WR/RS, 5-11, 180, Corinth, Mississippi, Corinth HS/East Mississippi CC
Jabari Reddock, DB, 5-11, 195, Largo, Maryland, Largo HS/Stony Brook
Erick Rogers, WR, 5-11, 190, Shannon, Mississippi, Shannon HS/Copiah-Lincoln CC
Danny Sears, LB, 6-0, 220, Covington, Louisiana, St. Paul’s HS
Christian Thomas, DE, 6-2, 235, Port Arthur, Texas, Memorial HS
Teeshaun Turpin, OL, 6-4, 300, Cleveland, Ohio, Glenville HS/North Texas
Hogan Wasson, WR, 5-10, 175, Colleyville, Texas, Colleyville Heritage HS
Dez Wililams, LB, 6-0, 217, Mound Bayou, Mississippi, Cleveland Central HS/Coahoma CC
London Williams, RB, 5-10, 175, Zwolle, Louisiana, Many HS
Photo: Chris Reich/NSU Photographic Services