Saturday’s game a welcome home for Demons’ MACCC alumni

Unsurprisingly, Louisiana and Texas dominate the hometown category on the Northwestern State football roster.

Mississippi, Louisiana’s easterly neighbor, checks in as the state with the third-most players on the Demon roster. In addition to the eight Magnolia State natives, there are a pair of other Demon players with direct ties to Mississippi.

Few of those bonds run as deep as those forged by the eight Mississippi Association of Community Colleges Conference alumni who return to the home of their junior college careers Saturday when Northwestern State faces Southern Miss at 6 p.m.

“Mississippi JUCO football is probably one of the toughest JUCOs in the country,” said wide receiver Zach Patterson, an East Mississippi Community College product who caught his first touchdown as a Demon in this past Saturday’s loss to Grambling.

“At the end of the day, we’re friends, but we’re competitive. It’s a bond. We’re getting better at the same time. We pick around and joke, but we’re getting each other better on the field. We compete each and every day. It really brings the dog out of you. There are some dogs in Mississippi. I think people don’t give Mississippi enough credit. There’s really some dogs there.”

A good number of those “dogs” will have their day back home when the Demons tee it up against Southern Miss, which has 29 MACCC alumni on its roster.

That means there will be plenty of opportunities for Patterson, PJ Herrington (East Mississippi), Ray Gibson (East Central CC), Jamel Thomas and JaQuon Lott (Itawamba CC), Matt Mabry (Jones College), Javon Antonio (Hinds CC) and Dez Williams (Coahoma CC) to re-engage former teammates and rivals who traveled similar roads to Division I football.

“It’s just the love people have for the game,” Gibson said of why Mississippi junior colleges produce next-level talent. “You bring it all together, and everyone’s competing to go to the next level.”

The Demons have benefited in the past and present from the 15-school MACJC football league that blankets nearly every inch and population center – and numerous rural towns – of the state with homes for potential student-athletes.

Gibson said conversations with fellow MACCC alums helped him see there was not one common thread between where each played their junior college ball.

That said, there seems to be one as it relates to the type of player the MACCC produces.

“The caliber of player and person you get is a hard-nosed player who will take care of his business,” fifth-year head coach Brad Laird said. “That’s what we’ve seen with the success we’ve had with junior college players from Mississippi. You’ve seen them on our roster and seen them contribute in a great way.

“There are great coaches there who prepare them to play at a four-year institution. They do a great job as far as coaching and putting them in position to take care of their business on and off the field.”

The on-field business this week includes a homecoming for the Demons’ collective of MACCC products – seven of whom hail from the Magnolia State.

Patterson (Corinth), Herrington (Natchez), Gibson (Philadelphia), Thomas (Caledonia), Lott (Lambert), Mabry (Mendenhall) and Williams (Mound Bayou) played JUCO ball in their home state, which means tickets are at a premium for several visiting Demons this weekend.

The added requests will give those Demons a chance to add credence to Laird’s feelings toward their junior college coaches.

“In some ways, it will,” Patterson said of Saturday feeling closer to a home game, “but it’s still an away game. We’ve got to lock in. We’re both coming off two losses. We’re both looking for a win. It will be a hard-fought game at the end of the day.”

Photo: Chris Reich/NSU Photographic Services