By DOUG IRELAND, Journal Sports
Northwestern State has canceled Saturday’s football game at Nicholls after the apparently unprovoked shooting death early Thursday of junior safety Ronnie Caldwell at an apartment complex bordering the NSU campus.
Caldwell, 21, a native Texan, died early Thursday morning at the Quad apartment complex (formerly Frog Pond Apartments) at 3800 University Avenue. He arrived at Northwestern State after the 2021 football season, following two years at Tyler (Texas) Junior College.
The Natchitoches Police Department issued a brief statement Thursday morning confirming it is investigating the homicide that occurred around 1:08 a.m. at the location.
“NPD officers were dispatched to 3800 University Parkway in reference to gunshots in the area. Upon officers arrival they located Ronald Caldwell Jr. (B/M, 21 years old, of Manor, TX) suffering from several gunshot wounds. Caldwell was pronounced deceased by the Natchitoches Parish Coroner’s Office as a result of his injuries.
“This investigation is ongoing and the Natchitoches Police Department will release more details as they become available.”
Thursday afternoon, a roommate of Caldwell’s was in custody and has been charged with some offenses, but not murder at this time, as the investigation continued, said Corp. John Greely, NPD’s public information officer. There was no immediate indication whether additional persons were being sought.
Caldwell was a starting defensive back last season who had not played this season due to injury. In 2022, he made the Southland Conference Commissioner’s Fall Honor Roll for having at least a 3.0 grade point average. He was a business administration major at Northwestern who planned to open a health-focused business after graduation.
He was one of eight siblings, four sisters and three brothers. He graduated with a 3.4 g.p.a. from Cedar Park High School in the Austin metroplex and played two seasons at Tyler Junior College, where he had a 3.7 g.p.a.
“The Northwestern State family has suffered a tremendous loss,” NSU head football coach Brad Laird said. “Ronnie Caldwell was a young man who had a bright future ahead of him on or off the football field. He was our voice in the locker room. When Ronnie spoke, others listened. The respect our football team had for Ronnie was evident. He did not play a snap this year because of an injury, but his voice resonated with every member of our team from the first player to the 115th on our roster.
“Our hearts are broken and ache for Ronnie’s family and friends. His loss will be felt here at Northwestern State, in Natchitoches and in his home. We will treasure the time we spent with Ronnie and the memories we made, and we will hold him and his family in our hearts as we attempt to move forward in the days and weeks ahead.”
Caldwell, who wore jersey No. 23, appeared in all 11 games in 2022, starting 10, and finished seventh on the team in tackles. He had yet to play in a game in 2023 because of an injury sustained in preseason camp.
Despite the injury, Caldwell traveled with the team throughout this season, serving as a de facto defensive assistant coach, communicating with coaches in the press box via headset during games.
Caldwell twice had six tackles in a game in 2022 and added a career-high two tackles for loss in the Demons’ Nov. 5 win at Texas A&M-Commerce.
Caldwell spent the summer of 2023 in Natchitoches helping coach a local youth baseball team.
The Natchitoches Recreations and Parks Department issued a statement on the X platform (formerly Twitter).
“We are extremely saddened to hear of the passing of one of our young volunteer coaches … Ronnie Caldwell Jr. … Our deepest condolences go out to all that had the pleasure of crossing paths with this incredible young man. Prayers to the Caldwell family, NSU football team, and to these 9 little boys that lost their coach,” read the statement, accompanied by a team photo.
Caldwell was well-respected among his peers throughout the NSU athletic department. University provost Dr. Greg Handel asked faculty to excuse student-athletes from all sports from class and any tests during an early afternoon gathering with members of the NSU Counseling Center staff and athletic personnel “to assist in processing this tragedy” and asked for “understanding during this difficult time.”
Athletic director Kevin Bostian echoed Laird’s sentiments.
“We are stunned and saddened by the sudden loss of Ronnie Caldwell,” Bostian said. “Ronnie was a devoted teammate, friend, brother and son. His teammates, coaches and staff members who had the pleasure of knowing Ronnie will remember his ever-present smile and the way he could light up any room when he walked in. Words truly cannot express the heartache we feel for Ronnie, his family, his teammates and our university community.”
Southland Conference commissioner Chris Grant and Nicholls athletic director Jonathan Terrell issued statements of condolence while announcing the cancellation of the game, which will not be made up.
The team is scheduled to resume action next Saturday, Oct. 21, in a home game against Southeastern Louisiana.
Decisions regarding Northwestern State’s remaining football games will be made as the season progresses, officials said.