NATCHITOCHES – The early portion of the Northwestern State football signing class of 2020 has a feeling of immediate impact.
The Demons received signatures from 10 players, seven of which are junior college products, during Wednesday’s early signing day.
“What an exciting day,” said head coach Brad Laird, whose third season at the helm of his alma mater kicks off in September. “We get two of these, one now and one in February. We were able to really concentrate on guys who can be here in January to start building the 2020 team. We hit some position needs we had, but more importantly, we’re building the culture and bringing in guys from programs that have traditionally been successful.
“That’s important because of the mindset they bring day to day. That mindset, combined with the guys we have coming back, we know we have to be all in and compete every day and be successful that day to be successful in the future. We’re bringing in guys who have been part of programs like that, whether it’s been the last two years or the three high school young men who have been part of a culture for four year. We met needs and brought in guys with that mindset.”
Two of the newest Demons are defensive backs, a position where Northwestern State must replace a pair of senior starting safeties and a cornerback rotation that lost three different seniors who started games in 2019.
Both East Mississippi Community College’s PJ Herrington and Trinity Valley Community College’s Marques Williams bring junior college experience with them and will enroll in time for spring practice, allowing them to familiarize themselves with defensive coordinator Mike Lucas’ scheme.
Herrington helped lead East Mississippi to the 2018 national championship, picking off a pair of passes before blossoming as a sophomore in 2019. Herrington, a 5-foot-10, 185-pound Natchez, Mississippi native, earned second-team Mississippi Association of Community and Junior College All-North Division honors after recording 40 tackles and intercepting four passes. He added a team-high 10 pass breakups as well.
“He’s very versatile as far as what he can do in the back end,” Laird said. “With the number of seniors we lost (at safety), he’ll bring a different element this spring to compete in a lot of different areas.”
Williams was busy in the Trinity Valley secondary as well, ranking second on the team with 78 tackles, including 6.5 for loss. A Dickinson, Texas, product, Williams had three double-figure tackle games in his one season at Trinity Valley.
“He really put himself in position to be where he is,” Laird said. “We have a background with coaches from Trinity Valley in (offensive line) coach (J) Pond and (offensive coordinator) coach (Brad) Smiley. Again, we’re talking a position with a lot of graduates from last year’s team, and he’s a guy who will come in and compete for this team.”
The Demons dipped into the high school ranks for the third defensive signee, picking up a letter of intent from Gilmer (Texas) High School linebacker Malik Williams.
A three-sport letterman who was an all-district pick as both a fullback and linebacker, his versatility stood out to Laird as did his contributions to Gilmer’s run of success. Williams recorded 52 tackles, seven for loss, on defense while catching eight passes for 76 yards and a touchdown on offense.
“They’re a team that’s used to playing for state championships,” Laird said. “He’s a guy who will come in this summer and be able to compete. He was a basketball player, also. There are multiple things he can do. I look forward to seeing him at linebacker this year and for the next four years.”
The East Texas junior college circuit provided the Demons with two additional signees – kicker Eddie Godina (Trinity Valley CC) and running back Scooter Adams (Kilgore College).
Godina was named an All-American after connecting on an NJCAA single-season record 26 field goals in his lone season as Trinity Valley’s primary place kicker. In addition to his kicking prowess, Godina showed his versatility as the Cardinals’ punter, averaging 38.2 yards on 112 career punts, including a 40-yard average in 2019.
“I’ve got to give Eddie a lot of credit for how he handled this process, and really all these young men as they sign,” Laird said. “Eddie hit 26 field goals, but he does a lot of things. He can punt and kick off. To be able to add a JUCO All-American is exciting.”
Adams is one of two running backs who joined the NSU roster Wednesday, doing so alongside Lafayette Christian Academy’s Logan Gabriel.
Adams was a second-team All-Southwest Junior College Football Conference selection after rushing for 258 yards and a touchdown as a sophomore. He averaged 5.8 yards per carry as a freshman and showed his versatility, catching 12 passes for 161 yards in his final season at Kilgore.
“There are a lot of things he can do,” Laird said. “He’s been part of a very, very successful program they’ve had. He’s a former baseball player who was very successful. He’s very versatile as far as a running back is concerned.”
Gabriel bounced back from a midseason injury to help lead Lafayette Christian to its third consecutive state title. After rushing for 119 yards in a semifinal victory, Gabriel tallied three rushing touchdowns in the Knights’ state championship victory against St. Charles Catholic. Gabriel was a prep teammate of Demons redshirt freshman quarterback Zachary Clement.
“What they’ve done there, winning the state championship again, they have a culture of winning day in and day out,” Laird said. “He’s been a big part of them winning it three times in a row, and I look forward to what he’ll bring to that position.”
Much like the defensive backfield, Northwestern State has to replace its top two pass catchers on offense.
To begin to do so, the Demons dipped into the junior college ranks for a pair of receivers – Mississippi Gulf Coast’s Marquise Bridges and Reedley (California) College’s Andy Pierre-Antoine.
Bridges (6-1, 193) was a first-team All-MACJC all-state honoree after catching 43 passes for 782 yards and six touchdowns for the 2019 national champions. In two junior college seasons, Bridges snared 60 passes for 1,009 yards.
“Look at what he did with Gulf Coast, winning the national championship this year,” Laird said. “You’re bringing in a guy you love watching on film and you love seeing him in person as well. I can’t wait to get him on campus, along with Andy and start mixing these young men with the guys we have coming back. It should make for great competition this spring.”
Pierre-Antoine led Reedley in catches (44), receiving yards (706) and touchdown catches (8). He had a four-game streak and a three-game streak of touchdown catches as a sophomore. Like Bridges, he caught 60 passes in his two JUCO seasons, totaling 891 yards and 12 touchdowns.
The Demons added a pair of offensive linemen, one from junior college and one high school product, during Wednesday’s early signing day as well.
Jones County (MississippI) Junior College’s Logan Canerdy and Ruston High School’s Jordan McClaine signed with Northwestern State, which must replace three senior starters up front.
“We needed to bring in guys to compete with the guys we have,” Laird said. “I look forward to seeing those two guys come in and compete. Jones is another good program that won eight games last year, and I know what coach (Jarrod) Baugh has done (at Ruston). You know what you’re getting with those guys. It’s a position where we graduated quite a few seniors, and those two young men will come in and compete in the spring and summer.”
Northwestern State Early Signing Day Class
10 signees (7 JUCO, 3 High School)
Scooter Adams, RB, 5-9, 190, Kilgore College, Hallettsville, Texas
Marquise Bridges, WR, 6-1, 193, Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College, Brookhaven, Mississippi
Logan Canedry, OL, 6-3, 295, Jones County Junior College, Caledonia, Mississippi
Logan Gabriel, RB, 5-11, 220, Lafayette Christian Academy, Opelousas, Louisiana
Eddie Godina, K, 5-11, 195, Trinity Valley Community College, Whitehouse, Texas
PJ Herrington, DB, 5-10, 185, East Mississippi Community College, Natchez, Mississippi
Jordan McClaine, OL, 6-3, 280, Ruston HS, New Orleans, Louisiana
Andy Pierre-Antoine, WR, 6-1, 180, Reedley College, North Miami, Florida
Malik Williams, LB, 6-0, 205, Gilmer HS, Gilmer, Texas
Marques Williams DB, 5-10, 196, Trinity Valley Community College, Dickinson, Texas