NATCHITOCHES -- Northwestern State signed more players, 20, on Wednesday than the new Demons football coaching staff ever envisioned when starting the recruiting process less than three weeks ago.
New head coach Jay Thomas, who has six years experience as a championship-winning Southland Conference head coach at Nicholls State, said putting together a tight-knit staff triggered the success that unfolded on National Signing Day Wednesday.
"The 25 years I've spent in college coaching helped prepare me for this. We quickly built a very strong staff, really smart guys, hard workers, hustlers, and came up with a really good plan tying in things we'd done before with the assets on hand at Northwestern and in Natchitoches. I had a leg up knowing a lot of the personnel that is here, because I was here for two seasons in 2010-11 (as defensive line coach).
"Our team, our players, that was a key ingredient in our success. This came together quickly by necessity and last week we had recruits visiting every night of the week after Monday. Our kids did a great job of hosting these guys and selling this program, this university and this community. That's the foundation of recruiting success, when the guys here feel that good about being here and they want good players and people to join them."
The Demons included 11 Louisiana high school players in the signing class, which could expand in the coming days. Seven defensive backs, including five listed as cornerbacks, topped the list, with four linebackers, three quarterbacks, two defensive linemen, and a receiver, offensive lineman, running back and kicker.
Eight of the 20 have grade point averages over 3.0 and at least two are National Honor Society members. Three have family ties to the Demon football program: Haughton High School quarterback James David Almond is the grandson of one of NSU's greatest receivers, 1979 NFL Draft pick Mike Almond, while Natchitoches-St. Mary's defensive lineman Brandon Kelly's grandfather Don Kelly was a talented running back for the Demons in the early 1960s, and Bossier City-Airline running back Calvin Moody is a two-generation legacy, with stepfather Bo Meeks a former Demon quarterback and his grandfather, Ken Meeks, a receiver for NSU in the mid-1970s.
"That's extra special, to bring in guys who have family tradition here," said Thomas. "Across the board, we are so excited about the caliber of the young men joining our program, as well as their football talents. We're very happy with their college choice."
Thomas said not to read too much into positions listed on the signing chart. As he and the new staff approach spring practice next month, installing new offensive and defensive schemes, nothing is set.
"We need to be open-minded to any and all position changes. Every job is open, and we're open-minded," he said. "We're going to have some guys we need to double-train on both sides of the ball, or at different positions on the same side of the ball. All our corners will learn the safety spots, and vice versa. It's about finding the best 11 to put on the field every down to get the job done and win games.
"We feel pretty good about being two-deep on the offensive and defensive lines, so we didn't go heavily into signing those positions. That's not to say we might not add somebody along the way but we didn't need to restock the pools."
Thomas didn't want to single out any signee as the jewel of the class, or one that the Demons were especially excited to add over others in the group.
"I can't pick one out as a steal. We think they all fit that description, every one is an important part," he said, but he did acknowledge that without an experienced quarterback on hand among the four on campus, adding three more at that position is worthy of note.
"Our quarterback battle is going to be highly competitive this spring and I look forward to watching it unfold," he said. "We don't have anyone back who has played much. We like the four who are here currently, and we're all learning a new offense and we'll work through the process in spring ball and two weeks in August and see who comes out on top."
Junior college passer Zach Adams, who was one of the more prolific quarterbacks in the 70-team California community college leagues last year, seems as strong a contender as any signee to earn immediate action in 2013.
"Zach Adams already has earned the nickname 'Sunshine' with the way he warmed up to us," said Thomas. "Studying him on tape, he was really, really productive, has a great touch, can throw the deep ball, and he's mobile. As an older guy he's one we expect to push to play right away."
Adams was one of four JC transfers, along with another California CC addition, offensive lineman Zach Schumann, and Marion Chapman, a Jones County (Mississippi) linebacker who ranked 10th in the nation in tackles, and East Mississippi cornerback Jason Yarbor, who picked off seven passes in two seasons.
"Adding transfers, you are looking to fill a need and to find a really good fit personality-wise, and we were selective and are very pleased with the junior college guys we've signed," said Thomas.
After going through the football equivalent of speed dating, Thomas was thankful for the support he and his staff received in their "fast and furious" recruiting process.
"Two and a half weeks, for a process that usually takes many, many months, it's just amazing to come out this well," he said. "It's a phenomenal job by the coaching staff, our players and so many people across the campus, and around this community, and we can't possibly thank everyone enough for pulling together."