Nobody hands you a dream.
Those are the words new N-Club Hall of Fame inductee Melvin Howard amid thunderous applause, as he was one of the 12-member class that was inducted during the N-Club Hall of Fame ceremony on Saturday morning during Homecoming weekend.
People are able to watch the stream of the ceremony on NSUDemons.com./watch via the On Demand section.
Howard, the first African-American football player in Northwestern State history, came to NSU in the summer of 1968, just months following the assassinations of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Robert F. Kennedy.
“I am happy to be a small part of American history,” Howard said. “Nobody knew in 1968 that this university would be on the cutting edge of how African-Americans in the state of Louisiana would be treated.”
Howard came to NSU over offers from national powers Michigan State and Missouri.
He was one of two honorees of the N-Club Pioneer Award, joining fellow trailblazer Louise “Do” Bonin.
On the 50th anniversary of title IX, Bonin reflected on her time at NSU and was fortunate the university had the foresight to offer women athletic scholarships.
After NSU, she has had a successful stint as both a head coach and teacher, wanting to be one from a young age and couldn’t be happier with her choice.
“You always hear about what coaches and teachers do for you. What you don’t hear about is what student-athletes do for us. It has shaped me professionally.”
Getting choked up during speeches was commonplace, as Bonin and former Northwestern State men’s basketball coach Mike McConathy did just that.
McConathy was introducing former player Clifton Lee, who played from 2002-2006, and averaged nearly 12 points per game, including 14 points per contest as a senior.
In that senior season, he led NSU to a 26-8 record and an NCAA Tournament berth. Nicknamed ‘The Demons of Destiny,’ NSU came from a 17-point deficit to upset No. 3 seed Iowa in Auburn Hills, Mich.
Lee was sure to give back thanks to his former coach.
“Two of the biggest things you can do for someone is pray for them and believe in them,” he said. “Coach Mike and my teammates believed in me.”
While Lee was just starting his career on the basketball court, Roy Locks was just finishing up his on the gridiron.
Locks, who was being introduced by 2021 N-Club Hall of Fame member Terrence McGee, helped lead the Demons to a pair of FCS Playoff appearances during his career.
“I did his last year, so he owed me one,” said Locks jokingly about McGee.
“I came from a blue-collar town and that kind of impacts the other aspects of our lives,” Locks said. “Growing up, it was always instilled in me to make it happen. No excuses, just make it happen.”
Make it happen, he did, as he registered 70 tackles, including 16.5 for loss and 10 sacks in his 2002 Southland Conference Defensive Player of the Year honor.
He also paid tribute to his friend, Ahmad Willis, who passed away earlier this month.
“Ahmad was my brother,” Locks said. “We were two of the most opposite people you can put in a room, but we immediately had a bond that will last forever.”
Willis was also linked to another N-Club inductee, quarterback Craig Nall.
Despite playing just one season in Natchitoches, Nall made the most of his opportunity.
Nall transferred to NSU from LSU, where he played sparingly for three seasons, throwing for 431 yards.
He came in January of 2001 and earned the starting quarterback spot. During his one season with the Demons, he broke the school record for passing yards (2,361) and was tied for second with 12 passing touchdowns.
One of the most memorable games in NSU history came on the road against FBS member TCU, one in which Nall and Willis were right in the middle of.
Nall passed for 326 yards and three touchdowns, leading the Demons to a 27-24 overtime victory on the road. After NSU kicker Clint Sanford made a field goal in overtime, Willis blocked TCU’s attempt, setting off a celebration by the Demons.
Drafted in 2002 by the Green Bay Packers, he played seven years in the NFL, throwing five touchdowns and no interceptions.
Coming in one year after Nall was David Pittman, who earned First Team All-American and All-SLC honors in 2005.
Pittman was a four-year starter, leading the Demons to two appearances in the FCS playoffs. In his four years, he intercepted 11 passes and broke up 26. He accumulated 153 tackles and scored four touchdowns, including three defensively. He was the only FCS player in the 2006 Senior Bowl.
He was selected by the Baltimore Ravens in the third round in the 2006 NFL Draft, where he intercepted a pair of passes.
While Pittman’s nickname was “Pitt,” it was tough to beat women’s basketball’s Kia “Killer” Converse in the best nickname department.
The three-time All-Southland Conference member and the conference’s former career 3-point record holder ranks 10th in program history in points (1,464). Her 3-point school record stood until Janelle Perez broke it in 2016.
She and Jennifer Graf are the only Lady Demon basketball players to win Southland Conference championship rings as a player and a coach.
“When I heard her nickname was Killer, I didn’t ask questions,” Graf said, who introduced Converse. “I just knew I had to make friends.”
She was a three-sport standout in high school and had a decision to make, both in terms of college choice and sport choice.
“I was fortunate to be taught by some great coaches,” Converse said. “I was recruited for the three sports, so I had a decision not only where I wanted to play, but what I wanted to play.”
“I was always a small-town person. After coming up to visit, I fell in love. The campus was gorgeous. There was such a hometown feel that I could not resist. Going to Northwestern State was the best decision I ever made.”
She has taken what she was taught at NSU and has become a successful coach.
Tracy Rew-Hoover was the first female national champion in school history, earning the 2011 NCAA Outdoor discus championship.
Prior to signing, she was told by her mother she could only visit one school. After coach Mike Heimerman watched her at an event, she showed out and was set on attending NSU.
“One mark. One opportunity. Once chance. It was just a formality for me signing.
If there is a call in your life, answer it. I am so glad someone took a chance on me.”
Brittany Littlejohn knows a little something competing on the big stage as well, being named five-time Southland Conference hurdles champion.
She did not play her first year because she was going for college and be a ‘regular kid,’ but walked on as a sophomore and the rest was history.
“I was getting ready for conference and an Olympic athlete saw me practicing hurdles and said ‘You’re really good. I think you can win.’
This Olympian thinks I could win and I convinced myself I can win. At that moment, that lady changed who I was as an athlete and I feel like that is what Northwestern State did for me. It taught me the sky was the limit.”
Just like Littlejohn dominated in hurdles, O.J. King dominated on the baseball diamond.
After transferring to NSU for the 2001 season, he was named SLC Newcomer of the Year. He followed that up by being named the 2002 Southland Conference Pitcher of the Year and was a member of the Southland Conference’s All-Decade Team as well.
He earned the SLC Pitcher of the Year award after posting an 8-4 record with a 2.63 ERA and 85 strikeouts in 106 innings pitched as a senior. In his Newcomer of the Year season, he went 8-2 with a 4.03 ERA and 62 Ks in 80.1 IP in 2001.
He struck out a program-record 15 batters against Lamar in 2002.
The final two also excelled on the diamond, as Erin Mancuso and Amanda Ortego dominated for softball.
Mancuso is one of five players to earn multiple First Team All-Louisiana selections. She is third in program history for RBI (127) and doubles (44) and fourth in HR (38). In 2000, she clubbed a school-record 18 runs and drove in 49 runs.
In the circle, Ortego was lights out for the Lady Demons.
In her four years, she amassed 59 wins, which is second in school history along with a program record 687.2 innings pitched.
Along with Crista Miller, she pitched a combined perfect game against Centenary in 2001.
She also proved her toughness on the diamond as well.
“She got line drives off the shin and she got back up and finished the play,” Jennie Reeves said, who introduced her. “They would ask if she needed to come out and she would tell her coaches no way.”
“It’s no secret she was a pitching machine.”
I guess you could say that all the players honored were machines at their craft.
CREDIT: Jason Pugh, NSU Sports Information