NATCHITOCHES -- The second edition of college football’s early signing period was a productive one for Northwestern State.
Head coach Brad Laird and his staff announced Wednesday the addition of 10 high school signees who established the foundation of the Demons’ Class of 2019.
“Our staff did a great job signing 10 young men from high school we feel can come in and be productive at Northwestern State,” Laird said. “It was different for us. Last year (at this time), we were able to get some mid-year junior college guys in. This year, we were able to get on these guys last January and February and build those relationships, which is the most important thing in the recruiting process.”
Wednesday was the first of a three-day period in which student-athletes can sign national letters of intent. The traditional spring signing period opens Feb. 6, 2019.
The Demons struck an envious balance, signing five offensive and five defensive players in their first full recruiting cycle as a staff.
“Balance on both sides of the ball was important for us,” recruiting coordinator Jake Olsen said. “Making sure we found who were good football players more than anything was key. Northwestern State’s not for everybody, but finding guys buying into that was important. When you get here, see our place and meet our people, it’s great. We had success recruiting because of that.”
The Demons landed three offensive linemen in the class, all of whom top the 300-pound mark and hail from Texas.
Spencer Cody is a 6-foot-4, 310-pounder from Pearland Dawson High School. A first-team all-district selection, Cody also played lacrosse for Dawson. He helped the Eagles average 27.5 points per game this season while propelling Dawson to playoff appearances in each of the past two seasons.
Jordan McCray (6-4, 320) comes to Northwestern State from Ennis High School where he was rated the No. 143 guard nationally by 247Sports.com. He was part of an offensive line that helped the Tigers average 25.8 points per game his senior season. Part of a program that reached the playoffs in all four of his seasons, McCray was a unanimous first-team all-district selection as a junior, helping Ennis win the district title.
Christian Mobley is the third offensive line signee for NSU. A 6-5, 310-pound product of Tomball High School, Mobley was a key part of an offensive line that produced averages of 355.7 yards and 29.5 points per game. A second-team all-district selection, Mobley is another multi-sport athlete, lettering in basketball for Tomball.
“It all starts up front,” Laird said. “Those three guys have the size we wanted and the ability to come in and play right now. Whether that happens remains to be seen, but they give us three big hammers up front who are big, athletic guys.”
The Demons landed a pair of skill-position players to start the early signing period, which runs through Friday.
Erik Hart, a 5-10, 180-pound running back from China Spring (Texas) High School, is both productive and projectable. Hart twice set the school single-season rushing record, first with 1,559 yards in his junior season then with 2,117 in his recently completed senior season.
Hart twice scored five touchdowns in a single game, establishing another school record. He proved to be a versatile back, catching 18 passes for 188 yards and a score his senior season. Hart was tabbed to play in the Blue-Grey All-American Game and was named one of the top 25 prospects in Central Texas.
“He’s a very dynamic back,” Laird said. “We identified him early in camp and built that relationship with him. Coach (Mike) Lucas had a connection with his high school coach. That’s key in recruiting. Erik is a very dynamic back and can be very explosive.”
Wide receiver Robbie Williams III brings a 6-4 frame to Natchitoches from Chapel Hill (Texas) High School where he was a versatile performer in all three phases of the game.
A four-sport letterman, Williams tallied 12 total touchdowns as a senior – eight receiving, two rushing, one passing and one via punt return. As a senior, Williams totaled 515 receiving yards, made 40 tackles, intercepted a pass, blocked a kick and handled both punting and field goals.
For his career, he surpassed the 2,000-yard receiving plateau and scored at least nine touchdowns in three different seasons. A first-team all-district selection as a junior, Williams also lettered in basketball, soccer and track and field.
“He’s another young man we saw early in camp and followed throughout the recruiting process,” Laird said. “You look at what he did at Chapel Hill, not just as a receiver, which we saw in camp. Defensively, he’s not afraid of contact. You get a receiver like that, he adds a different dimension.”
As they did on offense, the Demons added signees at all three levels defensively.
On the line, Northwestern State signed Welsh defensive end Johnathan Daigle and John Tyler (Texas) defensive tackle Ja’Bralen Yarber.
Daigle was a standout defender and key part of a Welsh program that won the 2017 state championship and finished the 2018 season as the state runner-up. He recorded 136 tackles and nine sacks as a senior after collecting 147 tackles, seven forced fumbles and five sacks as a junior.
For his career, Daigle totaled 365 tackles and helped Welsh advance at least to the quarterfinals in all four years of his high school career.
“I don’t know that he ever came off the field,” Laird said. “He played tight end for them as well. He is going to be very productive for us.”
Yarber followed a similar path at John Tyler, helping the Lions reach the state playoffs all three seasons of his career.
As a senior, Yarber (6-1, 280) helped guide the Lions to a 6-0 district mark and a berth in the third round of the state playoffs, recording 69 tackles, including 26 for a loss. He added six forced fumbles, an interception and a safety.
“He’s the same type of guy (as Daigle),” Laird said. “He played offensive line and defensive line for them. We felt utilizing his athleticism and quickness on the defensive line would benefit us.”
Franklin (Texas) High School linebacker Jared Pedraza is another two-way standout who was equally productive on either side of the ball.
Pedraza earned honorable mention all-state honors from the Texas Associated Press Sports Editors after his senior season. That came a year after the Texas Sports Writers Association named him a first-team All-State honoree as a junior.
In his junior season, Pedraza collected 158 tackles, 14 pass breakups, three forced fumbles and one fumble recovery on defense while rushing for 1,135 yards and 17 touchdowns on offense. Those efforts earned him the District 10-3A-I MVP honor. Pedraza was a first-team all-district performer as a sophomore and the District 12-3A-II Newcomer of the Year as a freshman.
“He’s been a very successful running back and linebacker,” Laird said. “He’s done that since he was a freshman, but you watch him and you see him getting better and better as a linebacker.”
The Demons added a signee to their hybrid “Buck” position as well, nabbing West Monroe’s Chandler Moncrief.
In his one season with the Rebels, Moncrief helped West Monroe reach the state championship game and a 14-1 season. He was a first-team all-district selection after transferring from Sterlington High School.
In his four years, Moncrief totaled 194 tackles (113 solo), eight sacks, one forced fumble and one interception.
“When you talk about Class 5A football in north Louisiana, you talk about West Monroe,” Laird said. “Four of their five playoff games were shutouts, and he was a big part of that defense. Coach Olsen did a great job with him. He knew about him when he was at Sterlington and did a great job of following him throughout the recruiting process to get to where we are today.”
Much like West Monroe, John Ehret put together a dominant defense this season. Cornerback Kunta Hester was a key piece of that defense, which held seven of its 14 opponents to seven or fewer points, including four shutouts.
In the Patriots’ second-round playoff win against Haughton, Hester picked off a pair of passes, helping send Ehret to the quarterfinals.
“Coach (Anthony) Scelfo did a great job recruiting him,” Laird said. “John Ehret was very successful. Two of their losses were to West Monroe this year. Coach (Marcus) Scott does a great job down there, and we’re very fortunate to be able to snag one from John Ehret.”
The 10 players provide a foundation for a class that will be complete in February. Laird called Wednesday’s announcement a “kick start” for the newly adjusted recruiting cycle, one the Demons’ staff is learning.
“As far as a baseline, you feel good knowing the guys you’ve signed and got in the boat,” Olsen said. “We now have the ability to attack and focus in on some key guys in January who will sign in February. It’s huge to have that base in and have the ability to show those guys’ buy-in to our program, which will show other guys how special this place can be.”