By: Jason Pugh (Northwestern State Athletics)

NATCHITOCHES, La (Northwestern State Athletics) – Northwestern State’s 2022 early signing class has a decidedly junior college lean to it.

Head coach Brad Laird on Wednesday’s early National Signing Day announced the addition of nine new Demons, seven of which hail from the JUCO ranks.

“It’s a good start,” Laird said. “That’s what it is. It’s a good start as we build toward the 2022 season. When you talk about recruiting, it doesn’t stop. Today is signing day, but this thing will continue to press forward. We were able today to fill some holes we needed with some older guys mixed in with a couple of high school guys. It’s a start, and we look forward to 2022 as this continues to grow.”

Joining the Demons from the junior college level by signing national letters of intent were: East Central (Mississippi) defensive lineman Ray Gibson, Kilgore College running back Kennieth Lacy, Itawamba Community College defensive tackle JaQuon Lott, Jones College offensive lineman Matt Mabry, East Mississippi wide receiver/return specialist Zach Patterson, Copiah-Lincoln wide receiver Erick Rogers and Coahoma Community College linebacker Dez Williams.

Six of the junior college signees hail from the talent-rich Mississippi Association of Community Colleges Conference, which long has been a fertile recruiting ground for Northwestern State.

Williams was a first-team All-MACCC North selection at Coahoma, recording 57 tackles to lead the Cougars. He is joined by a pair of defensive linemen in Itawamba’s Lott, who was a preseason All-American, and East Central’s Gibson, who notched 31 tackles and two sacks in two seasons at the Decatur, Mississippi, school.

NSU’s Mississippi JUCO haul was split evenly with a trio of offensive players joining the three defenders.

Patterson joined Williams on the MACCC All-State team, earning first-team honors as a return specialist who averaged 23.6 yards per kick return and 8.5 per punt return. In addition to his return skills, Patterson was the Lions’ third-leading receiver, hauling in 27 passes for 357 yards and a team-best eight touchdowns. Fellow receiver Rogers caught 70 passes in his Copian-Lincoln career, covering 776 yards in 21 games.

Up front, Mabry has a reputation as a locker room leader who “plays fast in the run game and very long in pass protection.” In East Central’s five-game COVID-shortened 2020 season, Mabry posted a single-game high grade of 93 percent against East Central.

Lacy led Kilgore College in rushing in the fall with 474 yards and added 134 more yards in the passing game. In Kilgore’s shortened spring season, Lacy showed his big-play ability, rushing for 604 yards on 72 carries, an average of 8.4 yards per rush.

“Offensively, we were able to add some experience on the interior of the offensive line, at running back and added a couple of guys at receiver,” Laird said. “Defensively, we got a couple of defensive linemen and linebackers who will continue to grow in that area. I’m excited about what our coaches were able to do. This time frame of playing in the spring, fast forward to playing 11 games in the fall and to end it with the signing period is a credit to our coaches, our staff and our players for what they did throughout this process.”

Laird credited assistant coaches Josh Jones and Joey Fitzgerald for the success in recruiting Mississippi.

“Their experiences they had recruiting those areas in the past and the relationships they had built in the past really helped us there,” Laird said.

Both of the Demons’ high school signees in the early signing period came on the defensive side of the ball.

Edna Karr linebacker Tory Morgan and Port Arthur (Texas) Memorial defensive end Christian Thomas became the first two prep signees in NSU’s class of 2022.

Thomas, a three-time Super Gold Team selection, hails from the same high school as current Demon linebacker Jomard Valsin while Morgan is the younger brother of former Demon running back Trevor Morgan.

Morgan meanwhile led Louisiana Class 4A defenders in tackles as a junior with 131 (42 for loss) and followed that by earning Defensive Player of the Year honors in the district as a senior, finishing with 119 tackles (25 for loss). A year ago, Morgan played his first career game at Turpin Stadium, racking up 16 tackles in a loss to Carencro.

“We’re going to sign the majority of our high school young men in February,” Laird said. “Both of them had been on campus, which was key for us to be able to sign them. They had been here and had the opportunity to see Natchitoches and Northwestern State and mingle with our coaches. That was important in our process to sign them.”

Morgan’s performances in his final two seasons did not surprise Laird.

“I remember watching him as a sophomore in the quarterfinals of the state playoffs and seeing the impact he had for that program he had for that program then,” Laid said. “Then you add the relationship with his brother, Trevor who played for us for the past five years. To be able to get that caliber of player from that program was big for us.”

2022 Northwestern State Early Signing Class

Ray Gibson, DL, 6-2, 305, Philadelphia, Mississippi, Neshoba Central HS/East Central CC

Kennieth Lacy, RB, 5-9, 185, Kilgore, Texas, Kilgore HS/Kilgore College

JaQuon Lott, DL, 6-4, 315, Lambert, Mississippi, Madison S. Palmer HS/Itawamba CC

Matt Mabry, OL, 6-3, 305, Mendenhall, Mississippi, Mendenhall HS/Jones College

Tory Morgan, LB, 5-11, 213, New Orleans, Louisiana, Edna Karr HS

Zach Patterson, WR/RS, 5-11, 180, Corinth, Mississippi, Corinth HS/East Mississippi CC

Erick Rogers, WR, 5-11, 190, Shannon, Mississippi, Shannon HS/Copiah-Lincoln CC

Christian Thomas, DE, 6-2, 235, Port Arthur, Texas, Memorial HS

Dez Wililams, LB, 6-0, 217, Mound Bayou, Mississippi, Cleveland Central HS/Coahoma CC