Tragedy, injury impact Natchitoches Central’s season

CAREER OVER: Quarterback Brian Young hands off to running back Jeremiah Miles in the season finale against Byrd. Both seniors made a huge impact in their NCHS careers, but it wasn’t enough to lift the Chiefs to a playoff appearance.

BY MATT VINES, Journal Sports

NATCHITOCHES – Natchitoches Central didn’t make a return trip to the Class 5A playoffs after the Chiefs rebounded from a winless 2020 season with a seven-win campaign in 2021.

Twenty-four seniors in 2022 buoyed a group that had playoff expectations, perhaps developing into a district title contender in District 1-5A.

But tragedy, injury and some underlying inconsistency impacted what could have been an impactful season as the Chiefs were trying to make their first consecutive playoff trips since 2014-15.

The Chiefs finished 3-7, including a 1-5 finish with a three-game losing streak to end the season that thwarted any kind of a playoff push.

The tragedy – junior receiver Robert Walker II lost his life in a utility terrain vehicle crash on Oct. 2.

The team and school rallied around Walker II, with Wilkerson remembering him as a jokester.

“That tragedy as tough on the team and everyone involved in the program,” Wilkerson said as he reflects on the season. “Robert was a great young man who had improved so much. He was always smiling and happy, and we miss. I was proud of our team for playing through that and playing for him.”

The injury – of the many injuries that occur throughout the season, none was more prominent than the shoulder injury that forced quarterback Brian Young Jr. to miss the first half of the season.

Young gritted his teeth and made a return in Week 5 but wasn’t healthy enough to take all the snaps until two weeks later.

Young was a centerpiece to Natchitoches Central’s 6-0 start in 2021, but an injury this past season contributed to the Chiefs 1-3 finish.

Now the young man faced another rehab and another recovery, eventually returning as the team’s everyday quarterback.

“Brian Young is one of the toughest young men I have ever coached, and the most resilient,” Wilkerson said. “He is a competitor that battles, and I am proud of him for coming back and playing through all the pain. I believe that he had an impact on our program and will be remembered for that.”

The tandem of young and receiver Camryn Davis did get on track, especially in Week 7 against Captain Shreve.

Young totaled 250 yards and three touchdowns, including a pair of passing touchdowns to Davis (8-153) as the Chiefs dominated the Gators in a 30-17 win.

NCHS flexed its muscle again the next week, leading Parkway (district leader at the time) after three quarters in Week 8.

But that’s where the underlying consistency surfaced. Parkway scored three straight touchdowns in the fourth quarter, including a defensive touchdown, to run away with the victory.

Perhaps a different outcome at Parkway could have carried over to the Haughton and Byrd games, where the opponent won by more than 30 points in each. Turnovers loomed large in the Parkway and Haughton losses, and the Chiefs just couldn’t find a gear in the finale against Byrd.

The Chiefs flashed playoff potential, but mistakes in all three phases were costly.

“I think we’ll use them as reminders as what we can be when we do the right things.” Wilkerson said.

CREDIT: Kevin Shannahan/NPJ Sports