NATCHITOCHES – Recruiting has looked different in the COVID-19 pandemic with Zoom and FaceTime conversations replacing trips to campuses and home visits with players and their families.
But one factor remained the same in Northwestern State football’s eight-member signing class inked Wednesday on National Signing Day – championship caliber.
Four signees played in at least one state title game and a fifth recruit has a chance to play for a Louisiana state title in NSU’s Turpin Stadium.
“It’s been very different for all of us as we’ve gone through this process, and we appreciate these eight young men in trusting us as we’ve gone through these different recruiting times,” said NSU coach Brad Laird, who is beginning his third season as the head coach and 11th season overall with the Demons. “We weren’t able to go to camps, have them on campus or be in their homes visiting with families, but (recruiting coordinator) Anthony Scelfo has done a great job of setting up virtual meetings.
“A lot of these programs that are recruits are coming have played in state championships or in the case of East Mississippi Community College, competed for national championships. Not only are we getting great players who will help with specific needs, but we’re bringing in winners that have competed for titles.”
NSU signed two pairs of teammates in this class, hailing from North Little Rock and La Vega High (Waco, Texas).
NLR quarterback Kareame Cotton and tight end Jaylon Glosson are part of a program that’s played for the past five state title games.
Cotton assured that the Charging Wildcats would make the title game this season by rushing for a 32-yard touchdown in the final seconds of a semifinal win, his sixth touchdown in that contest.
Glosson is an all-conference tight end that has helped the program to 45 wins in the last four years.
“We didn’t sign a quarterback in last year’s class, and we had connections at North Little Rock to get that one,” Laird said. “We watched film on Cotton and kept seeing this tight end pop up (Glosson), and we needed one of those, too.
“When you look at the culture of championship programs like North Little Rock, we know the type of young man not just on the field but off the field as well. Coming from those coaches and those programs, you know it’s more than just Xs and Os.”
A pair of La Vega High defensive backs also have championship caliber.
Safety Ara Rauls III and cornerback AJ Burns helped La Vega to a state championship as sophomores.
Rauls III, who moonlighted as a quarterback, made 95 tackles with five interceptions, including returning for two touchdowns as an all-state junior.
Burns and Rauls III were part of a La Vega third-round squad as seniors that held its first two playoff opponents to a combined seven points as part of three shutouts this season.
“(Defensive coordinator) Mike Lucas does a great job recruiting in Texas and at La Vega,” Laird said. “We knew about these guys as sophomores and juniors, and they’ve been on our radar.
“With these being different times, recruiting teammates might play a role with more Zooms and FaceTimes.”
The fifth member of NSU’s signing class who has a shot at playing for a state title is Mangham offensive lineman Chase Underwood.
The Dragons face Kinder on Friday in Louisiana’s Class 2A semifinals for a chance to play in Natchitoches for the championship.
The all-state and All-NELA lineman has helped Mangham to an 11-0 record after the program won nine games in 2019.
Underwood is one of three offensive linemen, a position Laird targeted.
“The two main parts to this class was the offensive line and defensive backfield,” Laird said. “These guys have an opportunity to come in and compete.”
Underwood joins Texas natives Coby James (Midlothian High) and Landon Blubaugh (Keller High) on the line.
Blubaugh is a unanimous first-team all-district performer while James has guided Midlothian High to the playoffs in all four seasons.
Joining the two La Vega defensive backs in junior college transfer Kel Williams.
The East Mississippi Community College product played as a freshman before his sophomore season was wiped out by COVID-19. Williams intercepted three passes and recovered a fumble to pair with his 49 tackles.
Because of NCAA rules granting players an extra year of eligibility in the pandemic, Laird said the overall recruiting class will be much smaller than normal when finalized in February.
“This class will look different because of that, but we’re very excited about the eight we have,” Laird said. “We’re still going to have needs that we have to pinpoint, but we’re excited about the start of this class and look forward to finishing it in February.”
2021 Northwestern State Early Signing Class
Landon Blubaugh, OL, 6-3, 260, Keller, Texas, Keller HS
AJ Burns, CB, 5-11, 170, Waco, Texas, La Vega High
Kareame Cotton Jr., QB, 6-2, 195, North Little Rock, Ark., North Little Rock HS
Jaylon Glosson, TE, 6-3, 225, North Little Rock, Ark., North Little Rock High
Coby James, OL, 6-3, 260, Midlothian, Texas, Midlothian Heritage HS
Ara Rauls III, S, 5-10, 175, Waco, Texas, La Vega HS
Chase Underwood, OL, 6-3, 265, Mangham, La., Mangham HS
Zitavious (Kel) Williams, FS, 5-10, 180, Starkville, Miss., East Miss. CC (Starkville HS)