Demons gather to honor the late Thomas Foster

Thomas Foster’s official title at Northwestern State was custodian, but the unofficial titles bestowed on him much more accurately reflected the impact he had on NSU student-athletes.

A familiar face around the NSU Athletics Fieldhouse even after his retirement in 2011, Foster died Sunday at age 69 after a battle with cancer.

The Stroud Room inside the NSU fieldhouse was filled Friday with family members and numerous former Demon players and coaches, who gathered following Foster’s funeral service to honor and reminisce about a man who was many things to many people.

“Thomas Foster was whatever you needed at that time,” said two-time All-American offensive lineman Marcus Spears, who played 11 years in the NFL. “He was what he was – a mentor, a father figure, a friend, a confidant or all of the above. He would go speak for you, intervene for you if he thought something wasn’t right between you and the coaches.

“He was everything to everybody. There is no way to replace him. He was one of those type of people. Honestly, I don’t know what his job title was. I never saw him work. He was like the mayor of Natchitoches.”

The unofficial mayor of the NSU Athletics Fieldhouse, Foster was a gregarious one-man welcome wagon for NFL scouts, recruits and student-athletes alike, Foster was part pro personnel liaison, mentor, counselor and friend to a generation of Demons and Lady Demons.

Foster became one of a handful of NSU-affiliated personnel to earn honorary membership in the N-Club, the association of former Northwestern State athletic letterwinners. In 2008, Foster was named the N-Club Distinguished Service Award honoree during the N-Club Hall of Fame ceremony.

Foster’s N-Club honors gained him notoriety around campus, but it was his ability to connect with NFL scouts that expanded his profile nationally – even more than a decade after Foster was an official Northwestern State employee.

“Whenever (NSU quarterbacks coach) Kyle (Washington) was in Indianapolis, they asked him if he knew Thomas Foster,” fifth-year head coach Brad Laird said. “He came back and asked about his job title. It’s hard to believe a janitor at Northwestern State University impacted so many people and knew so many people. You just had to know him to understand how funny that is.”

As news about Foster’s death trickled out, remembrances flowed in to the NSU coaching staff from former players and coaches.

Foster’s loquacious nature formed the foundation for relationships with some of Northwestern State’s top student-athletes. His NFL relationships were on display for decades during Northwestern State’s Pro Day going as far back as when future AFC Offensive Rookie of the Year Joe Delaney worked out for NFL teams.

Foster nurtured those relationships equally as much as the connections he had with Demon student-athletes.

“I texted (assistant general manager) Ed Dodds, who’s with the Colts now,” said associate head coach De’Von Lockett, who was both a Demon player and coach during Foster’s NSU tenure. “He and Ed were buddies. I met Ed when they drafted Jeremy Lane with the Seahawks. Whenever Ed came to town – even when Tom retired – (Foster) would come up here and say, ‘I’m waiting on my boy. We’re gonna eat. We’re gonna do this. We’re gonna do that.’ That relationship, it was big.”

It wasn’t just the relationship with the scouts or with the players that made Foster special to generations of NSU student-athletes, it was his ability to relate to them.

“It wasn’t just the football guys,” Spears said. “Everybody – track, basketball, baseball – there wasn’t anyone who couldn’t go to him for advice. He was just a book of knowledge and had so many stories. You could sit down and talk to him for hours. This is just tough to swallow.”