About five months ago, we reviewed the unfolding tragedies within Louisiana’s Northwestern State University Demons football program in Natchitoches.
One of the team’s starting players, junior defensive back Ronnie Caldwell, was shot several times and killed at about 1AM on Thursday, October 12, 2023 at his off-campus apartment complex located near the school.
The local police arrested a 22-year old Northwestern State student from Memphis, Tennessee in connection with the murder. That particular suspect was also a former NSU football player and no longer on the team. Caldwell’s 27-year old roommate from Natchitoches (who did not attend the school) was also arrested for possession of a firearm in the presence of a controlled dangerous substance.
The Northwestern State University football program literally imploded within two weeks of this tragedy.
This was happening smack-dab in the middle of the 2023 football season, too.
The players were devastated from the loss of one of their teammates. The football coaches had to deal with their own feelings about this sad event and provide emotional counsel more than 100 grieving players on the roster, too.
Two days after Ronnie Caldwell’s death, Northwestern State’s football game at Nicholls State University was cancelled. Just a few days following the funeral services were held for Ronnie Caldwell, the winless Demons football team suited up for a home game against Southland Conference foe Southeastern Louisiana.
On Thursday night October 19, 2023, Northwestern State lost 37-20 to the SLU Lions and dropped to 0-6 (plus a forfeit at Nicholls State).
That’s when the wheels fell off the entire football program
The team’s head football coach, Brad Laird, abruptly resigned.
Laird was a former quarterback at the school and was halfway through his fifth season as Northwestern State’s head coach.
The football team itself became sharply divided, too. Some players were still grieving and did not want to continue practicing. Others were ready to move ahead and honor their friend by continuing to play ball and finish the 2023 football season.
The family of the slain football player held a news conference within days of the funeral and announced that the family had retained legal counsel. That’s never a good sign.
That is when Northwestern State University President Dr. Marcus Jones stepped in and surprised nearly everyone.
On Thursday, October 26, 2023, he declared that the remaining four games for the Demons were being cancelled. The school cited the mental health and well-being of its student-athletes as the primary reason for the decision.
The Southland Conference approved a request by the Northwestern State University Demons to end its 2023 football season as the team forfeited its four remaining conference games.
*Note – At the time of this post, I have been unable to obtain any subsequent verifiable information about the status of the two men arrested in Natchitoches who may or may not have been involved in the shooting death of Northwestern State defensive back Ronnie Caldwell in October, 2023. Likewise, I have not read news about the status of any lawsuits which may be (or have been) filed by attorneys for Ronnie Caldwell’s family relating to his death.
A complete overhaul of the football program quickly began
Northwestern State’s Director of Athletics, Kevin Bostion, had been hired by the school less than two years earlier in February, 2022. Upon his hiring at NSU, Kevin Bostion told the media that he had always dreamed of becoming an AD at a top university like this.
“This is a dream come true for me,” said Bostion. “I’ve wanted to do this since I was 16 years old.
The new Director of Athletics then recalled a story which would come soon define his new role at NSU.
“As many of you know, I’m an NC State alum, and Jim Valvano was a famed basketball coach there, who is probably known better for his ESPYs speech that he gave when he was battling cancer. He said that we should all do three things every day: No. 1 is to laugh, No. 2 is to think and No. 3 is to have our emotions moved to tears. If we do all three of those things, we’ve had a heck of a day.”
Kevin Bostion was likely feeling a lot of Emotion #3 in the month of October last year. The tragedy involving the Northwestern State University football program had taken place on his watch.
Instead of giving up, the relatively new Director of Athletics rolled-up his sleeves and started over again.
By late November, Northwestern State University announced a new football coach. NSU hired Blaine McCorkle to become the next head coach.
The 47-year old McCorkle’s most recent coaching experience at NCAA Division III Belhaven College in Jackson, Mississippi seemed to mesh well with Northwestern’s immediate need to rebuild the program from the bottom-up.
A former long-snapper for the LSU Tigers, Blaine McCorkle joined the LSU football staff as a graduate assistant in 1999. His progression up the coaching ladder included stops at several successful FCS programs such as Delaware, Richmond, and UT-Chattanooga.
When Blaine McCorkle took the top job at Belhaven in Mississippi in 2018, the Blazers had not won more than three football games in any year since 2013. During his most recent three seasons in Jackson, Belhaven College won 24 games and lost only seven.
A successful turnaround coach with roots in the state of Louisiana gave Blaine McCorkle the edge as he captured the top football job at Northwestern State.
“I’ve wanted to be a Division I head coach in Louisiana for 30 years now,” said Coach McCorkle. “ I came here in August 1995 and fell in love with the people, the culture and the passion that is the state of Louisiana. A big part of that culture is college football. We’re in a great high school football state that has great areas to pull talent from.”
Another huge positive for NSU’s return to the gridiron came in late 2023 with the groundbreaking for a new athletics training facility. A $1.5 million gift (the largest individual gift in the school’s athletics history) kick-started this project to upgrade the training facilities on campus which will be used by all college athletes.
In late December, 2023, the NCAA granted a timely wish to Northwestern State
The NCAA allowed the school’s holdover football players from the shortened 2023 season an extra year of college football eligibility. This waiver effectively provides a “do-over” season for any NSU football players returning to the school to participate in the 2024 season.
Speaking of football players, Northwestern State has signed a number of high school athletes and transfers from other colleges in recent months.
On Friday, February 16 at 3PM, the school will even hold football tryouts for walk-on candidates. Given the uncertainty about how many players will return from last season’s team, the upcoming tryouts may bear more fruit than in previous years.
For a school which has not posted a winning football season since 2008 (7-5), the expectations for the 2024 season at Northwestern State should be relatively low.
However, there is little doubt that the mindset in Natchitoches is to lay a new foundation today for a revival of the NSU Demons football team in the coming years.
If that happens, much of the credit should go to the school’s current Director of Athletics. Kevin Bostion’s timely hiring skills and proven fundraising abilities may help the school’s football program survive one of the most difficult periods in NSU’s lengthy gridiron history.
Kevin Bostion likes to quote former North Carolina State basketball coach Jim Valvano. Coach V was also famous for a three word mantra which seems very appropriate for the rebuilding efforts now underway at Northwestern State University.
Don’t give up!