Demons add four JUCO signees

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NATCHITOCHES -- Northwestern State fished in a familiar pond Wednesday, signing three of its four junior college prospects from Trinity Valley Community College in new head coach Brad Laird's first early-period signing day.

Offensive coordinator Brad Smiley, who was the head coach at the junior college national power for the past 11 seasons, was instrumental in signing offensive lineman Khalil Corbett-Canada, quarterback Shelton Eppler and linebacker Blake Stephenson from his former post.

Linebacker Quindarrius Whitley from Holmes Community College (Miss.) is the second linebacker from this class, which Laird said was a need.

"We had to look at linebackers, and with the transition of our coaching staff, we knew we were sticking with junior college players today," said Laird, who credited his four-man staff with the class and said he'll have a full staff hired by early January. "We lost some good linebackers from this past season's team, so we knew we needed to regroup there.

"(Smiley) brings a lot not just offensively but in recruiting as well. The guys on his team know how to win."

Stephenson (6-foot-1, 220 pounds) led his team with 7.6 tackles per game (68 total) with a total of four stops for loss for a 9-3 Trinity Valley squad that won the Heart of Texas Bowl.

"He's steady, and he brings it every down," Laird said. "He's a smart player that can be in the right spot and be the quarterback of the defense. We hope that Blake and Quindarrius can be the focal points of the defense."

Whitley (6-foot-2, 210 pounds) helped anchor a Holmes (6-3) defense by ranking third in tackles (66) and pass breakups (four).

"He's a special kid, and a great young man as all four of these guys are," Laird said. "Whitley brings more length to the position.

"He doesn't have the size that Stephenson has, but he'll add one more older guy in that linebacker room."

Eppler was the primary trigger man for Smiley's prolific Trinity Valley offense, averaging 281 passing yards per game with 19 touchdowns and seven interceptions this past season. He completed nearly 56 percent of his passes (153-for-277) in nine games.

"He's familiar with this system and the things we're able to do," Laird said. "We look at our quarterback group, and we've got balance with one senior (Clay Holgorsen), one junior (Eppler), two sophomores (Kenny Sears and Kaleb Fletcher) and then a freshman we'll bring in."

Corbett-Canada (6-foot-5, 290 pounds) is a prototypical offensive tackle frame that Laird said is expected to be a key addition.

Canada anchored a line for an offense that averaged 41 points and 463 yards per game.

"He played as a true freshman after being a qualifier out of high school," Laird said. "He adds depth to the tackle position, and I'm really looking forward to him getting here."

All four student-athletes will enroll for the spring semester and participate in spring practice.

Corbett-Canada has three years of eligibility remaining with the other players having two years to play.

Wednesday's signing date is the first in which colleges could ink high school student-athletes before the traditional February signing day. High school athletes can sign during the three-day early period ending Friday, while mid-year junior college transfers can sign until Jan. 15.

Laird stuck with junior college mid-year signees, but he said headway is already being made for future high school classes.