Miles later, Brennan makes his last audible the right call

Nobody’s mad, or admitting to it, regarding Myles Brennan’s semi-surprising decision to end his football career, leaving the LSU quarterback room without its security blanket.

All the nice things were said Monday. There was plenty of feel good. It’s textbook PR, to get out in front of a negative story with (apparent) transparency and (seemingly sincere) respect and mutual admiration. Perhaps the hierarchy at Louisiana Downs takes note of that approach.

But no horsin’ around here. Myles Brennan is unhappy. He feels betrayed by new LSU coach Brian Kelly. As a descendent of one of New Orleans’ great restaurant families, he surely understands business decisions. Doesn’t have to like Kelly’s depth chart, but it is what it is.

So he, and Kelly, took the high road out of Baton Rouge, elevation 56 feet above sea level.

Brennan was the Tigers’ only SEC-tested quarterback, and his credentials were at the very least, solid.  In three games as the 2020 starter, he threw 11 touchdown passes and only three interceptions, going 79 of 131 and becoming the first Tiger to throw for 300-plus in his first three starts.

His leadership ability and toughness were unquestioned after he played through a muscle-mangled outing at Missouri, when he completed 29 passes for 430 yards and four TDs.

That turned out to be the last game of his life. In basketball, there’s a credo among shooters, when practicing, that you always leave on a make. Wasn’t planned that way, but Brennan has left on a make.

Degree in hand, fiancée on arm, future away from football very bright, Brennan is no dummy. As for football, he can live as a fondly-regarded, much-admired Tiger who can enjoy reunions of the 2019 National Championship team forever, and whatever business field awaits, he will have LSU goodwill always at his back.

He probably realizes due to his pair of injuries (remember, he broke his left arm slipping on the deck during a July fishing trip, costing him the 2021 season) that his skills may have diminished.

Kelly and staff concluded that was the case.

Brennan was stepping into the transfer portal while LSU was in limbo at the end of the Ed Orgeron era, but when Kelly came in from Notre Dame, he persuaded Brennan to backtrack to Baton Rouge, for what seemed to be a senior season do-over that had all the potential for a big finish.

Then Kelly created more competition, or chaos – take your pick. He landed Arizona State’s Jayden Daniels, who entered the portal with 6,025 yards and 32 TDs in three seasons starting in Tempe as a dual-threat QB.

It was “one of the more difficult decisions that I made in the offseason,” said Kelly, “but it was about … upgrading the competition on this roster across the board.”

That couldn’t have been well received by Brennan. At least Kelly didn’t string him along. The LSU QB pecking order was outlined in last Thursday’s scrimmage and none of it favored Brennan. It was apparent Daniels was in front and redshirt freshman Garrett Nussmeier was in the race. Kelly said if he had been healthy enough, Nussmeier would have gotten snaps with the first team. Brennan was clearly on the outside.

He didn’t mind the competition, he said in spring and during the summer. He wasn’t bad at all, but he wasn’t mobile, and if you recall LSU’s offensive line the past couple of years, that’s a volatile combination.

His quality of life got better Monday. He departs with dignity, instead of carrying a clipboard this fall. And he gets to keep that NIL money – from five businesses, including Raisin’ Canes and Smoothie King.

Leaving was a bittersweet call but, undeniably, the right one for a guy who gave it every chance to work at LSU.

Contact Doug at SBJDoug@gmail.com


Russell’s Louisiana-rooted legacy has more context than you may know

Where does Bill Russell fit in American sports history?

Undoubtedly in the stratosphere. His teams won two NCAA basketball championships, an Olympic gold medal, and 11 NBA championships in the 13 seasons he played professionally. Despite never being the Boston Celtics’ top scorer, his defense, his rebounding, his intensity and his intelligence made him the cornerstone of pro sports’ greatest dynasty, one that produced eight straight NBA crowns and earned him five NBA Most Valuable Player awards.

Where does Bill Russell fit in Louisiana sports history?

He was born in West Monroe, on Feb. 12, 1934, during hard times for nearly all Americans and certainly for those of color living in the Deep South.  He spent the first nine years of his life there, where extended family members remain, where his mother, Katie, was buried after she passed at age 32, of a kidney infection, three years after she and his father, Charlie, decided to move their family west to Oakland, hoping for better opportunities. 

But membership in the Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame is not among the cascade of accolades awarded Russell, who died in his sleep at the very wise old age of 88 Sunday a week ago.

Why not?

Because of a rule developed in the mid-1970s, when the Louisiana Sports Writers Association considered him for its Hall a few years after he retired in the wake of leading the Celtics to another NBA crown, the second time as player-coach, the first Black head coach in pro sports history. Through the years, that LSWA standard has been referred to as “the Bill Russell Rule” – to be eligible for selection, an athlete or coach has to have either played three seasons of high school sports and graduated with a Louisiana Department of Education degree, or have played two years at a state college, or competed for at least five productive years in the state as a pro.

That excluded Russell. And since, it’s been applied to star athletes including basketball greats Marques Johnson (born in Natchitoches), Antawn Jameson (Shreveport), baseball’s Reggie Smith (Shreveport) and gold medal USA Olympic gymnast Carly Patterson (Baton Rouge). That’s just a quick list of sports luminaries born, and in some cases, raised past their elementary school years here before their families relocated them.

Russell may not have contemplated being excluded by his home state’s Hall. After all, he declined to attend his Celtics’ jersey retirement ceremony or even his enshrinement in the nearby Basketball Hall of Fame. In his later years, at an NBA All-Star Weekend in New Orleans, LSHOF selection committee member Ted Lewis briefly spoke with him and asked if Russell had interest, better late than never, in being spotlighted here.

“No, not really,” was the reply, consistent with his lifelong values.            

“It is better to understand than be understood,” he would tell his daughter. And, “you should live a life with as few negatives as possible – without acquiescing.”

One of Russell’s trademarks was declining to sign autographs. Not even for his Celtics teammates.  That was almost uniformly taken as his being churlish and aloof but, instead, it was his belief that a handshake and perhaps a momentary greeting, or even a conversation, was infinitely more personal.

Bob Remy, an esteemed New Orleans sports historian who worked on stat crews for the New Orleans Jazz, Pelicans and Saints, decided as a young adult to ask for Russell’s signature when he visited as head coach of the Seattle Supersonics.

“He said he did not sign autographs. As I turned away, I felt him tap me on the shoulder, and I turned toward him. He looked at me and said, ‘Thank you for asking.’”

Boston-born Bill Magrath has a rarity. It’s a weathered, torn sheet of thin card-stock paper, the back of a roster card from a 1964 Celtics’ game in the fabled Boston Garden in the midst of the dynasty, the Celts on the way to their fifth-straight NBA championship in that mind-blowing string of eight in a row.

It’s got more than a signature — there’s a sweet backstory.

“From one Bill to another, Best wishes, Bill Russell,” it reads.

A keepsake from a kind man, once a lanky Bay Area kid with only one college scholarship offer but an incomparable competitor who rapidly ascended to become one of the world’s most successful athletes. As Boston’s biggest star left the Garden, discreetly from a side door on a stormy winter night, he encountered a very small-for-his-age boy, tugging on his raincoat and shouting, “Mr. Russell, Mr. Russell!” The very tall man, already well known for not signing autographs, swept up the kid in his arms. Then, after a brief chat, he scribbled a note nobody could have imagined would be such a treasure 60-some years later.

Bill Magrath was 9 years old.  Even then, he understood Russell’s reluctance. “Black people were not treated well in Boston in those days,” said Magrath, who holds a master’s degree in sports administration from Northwestern State and is the retired media relations manager for the Sports Business Daily.

Russell was not mean when his experience could have embittered him. But he always rose up against  racism and injustice. He stood alongside Martin Luther King Jr. and Muhammad Ali. Jackie Robinson asked for Russell, who didn’t know him personally, to be one of his pallbearers, because he was Robinson’s favorite athlete – for the way he competed, on the court, and in life.

Russell didn’t remain in Boston after shelving his sneakers. He returned to the west coast and eventually settled in Seattle. He lived a happy life, on his terms. He listened to NPR and watched Jeopardy or Star Trek. He enjoyed Aretha Franklin and Willie Nelson. He played golf. He read. He encouraged those he loved and, often unexpectedly, others. One night, Daily Show comic Jon Stewart fielded a call from Russell, completely out of left field. Stewart tweeted, “He thought I looked sad. Best pep talk of my life.”

Russell didn’t need, or want, to be in any Hall of Fame. But our teachers, our coaches, our leaders, our mentors need to share his story, much more than just his basketball feats, for generations to come.

Because Bill Russell fits in American history.

Contact Doug at SBJDoug@gmail.com

  • With attribution to reporting by the late Frank Deford, and Rick Reilly.


With only one arm, new NSU recruit has stirred up plenty of attention

New Northwestern State basketball coach Corey Gipson has created a unique buzz around his first recruiting class.

There’s a blend of transfers from four-year schools and junior colleges, eight in all. One, Missouri transfer Jordan Wilmore, is 7-foot-3.

There are two prep school signees, a year removed from high school.

And there’s the most famous recruit in NSU athletic history.

The one-armed kid.

Seriously.

Hansel Enmanuel is not a name that resonates, but his story is incredibly compelling, and it’s not exaggeration to say that people around the WORLD have taken notice.

His left arm was amputated just below the shoulder when a cinder block wall fell on him at age 6 in his native Dominican Republic. It did not deter his joy of playing sports, although it ultimately redirected his focus from baseball to hoops. That may have happened anyway; his dad was a pro basketball player on the island.

He was an ESPY Award finalist for “Best Play.” He is the subject of a Gatorade commercial. He has four million followers on Twitter and Instagram, not counting the reach of that Gatorade advertisement that debuted on ABC during the NBA Finals and continues in rotation across networks and on the company’s social media a month later.

Monday, ESPN’s Jalen & Jacoby show hosts told the audience they were bringing their show to NSU at some point this season to track the story.

Toss in the fact that 247Sports.com ranks him as a three-star recruit. Enmanuel posted averages of 25.9 points, 11 rebounds, 6.9 assists and 3.4 blocks as a senior at Life Christian Academy in Kissimmee, Fla.

But is he the product of high-caliber editing, a phenom who has a mind-blowing highlight reel, but due to obvious limitations, has shortcomings that cast doubt on his potential to play at the NCAA Division I level?

Perhaps.

His stats say otherwise. And clearly, the Demons believe otherwise. So did the coaching staff at Bethune-Cookman, a SWAC program based in Daytona Beach., a 78-mile drive from Kissimmee. So did coaches at Tennessee State, and if you can accept it, coaches at Memphis, a national program said to be among his final four choices.

But those stats were compiled against lower-level Florida high school competition, along with a few intersectional games for the Lions of Life Christian.

He has amazed and impressed observers for two summers while on the summer ball circuit. He was invited to play in the pro-am Drew League in Los Angeles last weekend, which is where he announced his college decision, although it turns out he had signed his letter of intent with the Demons a month earlier.

Smart move to make the announcement on a big stage. It immediately splattered across the internet and social media on outlets like Sports Illustrated and Apple News, gaining millions of impressions.

Whether engineered by Enmanuel’s camp or Gipson, breaking the news then and there got the desired result.

This guard, whose size has been reported from 6-4 to 6-6, is a media sensation.

Will he be solid enough to play at Northwestern, in the Southland Conference? There apparently were not offers from nearby programs like Central Florida, South Florida, Florida Gulf Coast, Florida A&M, North Florida, Stetson — all within easy driving distance of Kissimmee — let alone Florida, Miami or Florida State.

Who was right? It will be interesting to see as his days with the Demons unfold.

The mere fact that he’s gotten this far, and earned such widespread attention and respect, is mind-blowing. Enmanuel undeniably is worthy of all the praise he gets.

For Gipson and the Demons, there’s minimal risk, and already, great rewards. People will be keeping an eye on Northwestern State basketball this winter, and maybe if things go well, more Gatorade commercials will follow, along with wins.

Contact Doug at SBJDoug@gmail.com


Southland passes on preserving tradition, stops NSU-McNeese series

Monday morning, I listened to Greg Sankey, the most powerful man in college sports as the Southeastern Conference commissioner, cite the necessity to be “thoughtful but nimble” in the constantly evolving landscape of conference affiliations.

New Southland Conference commissioner Chris Grant has certainly been thoughtful but nimble as he’s navigated the turbulent league landscape since coming on board as the No. 2 guy last summer, then emerging as commissioner in waiting last fall. He gets a lot of credit for Southland cornerstone McNeese choosing to stay put (for now, since the Cowboys unabashedly admit they are looking for upward mobility).

He also is lauded for helping bring Lamar back from the Western Athletic Conference to the Southland after a miserable year flying teams all around three time zones, and for helping Incarnate Word realize the folly of trying the same thing. UIW walked to the DMZ, looked at the other side, and decided not to defect, after Grant helped encourage the Southland’s San Antonio member to stay put.

The Southland was a conference in crisis a year ago, with longtime members (Stephen F. Austin, Sam Houston) departing, dragging Lamar and Abilene Christian along; with Central Arkansas also bolting, and McNeese wavering on joining the wacky WAC. Now, largely credited to Grant’s playing a pivotal role, the league has 10 committed members (eight football schools) and an even split between Texas and Louisiana campuses. As it stages the Southland Football Media Day event Wednesday in the defacto conference headquarters, Lake Charles, the Southland has pulled off quite the comeback.

In an 11th-hour switch in June, Lamar chose to rejoin the Southland for this season, not 2023-24 as indicated this spring. That produced a scramble to rearrange the league’s schedules in all sports. Football, in scope and profile, presented the biggest logistical hurdles.

And the biggest, oldest, most tradition-laden rivalry in the Southland didn’t survive.

When the Southland proudly trotted out its revamped football slate six days ago, the Northwestern State-McNeese game was wiped away. The Demons and Cowboys have met every season since 1951, but are no longer to scheduled to play this fall.

It was to be the final home game for the Demons and the closing contest of the regular season for both teams. If played on that date, or any other, it’s a series with 70 years of annual history, the one game that every year, players, coaches, and fans on both sides circle as soon as that season’s schedules are set.

Kicking off SEC Media Days in Atlanta Monday, Sankey addressed scheduling – the SEC’s issue is not a quick fix, but what to do when Texas and Oklahoma join, presumably in 2025. He cited the SEC’s policy of three “permanent” rivalries (LSU has Ole Miss, Alabama and Florida).

The Southland doesn’t have permanent rivalries – well, not any longer. In a statement issued to The Journal, Grant tried to explain why not.

“As a conference with deep pride in its history of competitive excellence, the Southland Conference has profound respect for the legendary rivalry between McNeese State and Northwestern State. We also understand the fan frustration that organizers had to hit the pause button for a year due to multiple intersecting obligations. As schools worked to build non-conference schedules for this fall, they did a fantastic job accommodating the welcome presence of Lamar University and the University of Incarnate Word, a scheduling alliance with the Ohio Valley Conference and several prioritized dates on campus for multiple schools. We apologize to the student-athletes and fans for the necessary pause on this annual tradition and look forward to the rivalry’s spirited resumption in 2023.”

Sorting through: “profound respect for the legendary rivalry?” Horse hooey.

“Had to hit the pause button for a year due to multiple intersecting obligations.” Don’t think you “had to,” Mr. Grant. You just didn’t care enough to have your crew work a little bit harder to preserve a 70-season series between in-state rivals. Truman was president when the Demons and Cowboys first teed it up. You’re right about one thing – it is a “legendary rivalry.”

“Several prioritized dates on campus for multiple schools.” Uh, we can easily read that as Homecoming. Every school has it. Everybody loves it. But shouldn’t the oldest active, continuous series in the Southland also be “prioritized?”

“Necessary pause on this annual tradition.” Totally unnecessary, that is. I get that there’s a rush to produce a schedule. The season is nearing, but there are six weeks before the Sept. 3 season opener, and nine weeks before Southland games start on Sept. 24. The Southland didn’t pause on the annual tradition. It trashed the annual part.

Remember the words of Greg Sankey – commissioner of the Southland, by the way, from 1996-2002: “thoughtful but nimble.”

During the crush of the pandemic, we saw countless examples of “nimble” when it came to scheduling, to practices, to travel, to . . . everything.

What we have here is a refusal to admit a correctable error. The conference office will tell us that the schedule announced last week was “approved” by each school. I know it caught the NSU football staff by surprise, after they heard a couple days earlier from McNeese colleagues that the game would probably move off the final date to accommodate McNeese-Lamar there. Fine. But to toss it aside? Terrible.

Even worse? There’s ample time to fix this. If only Grant and crew could show us a little “nimble.”

It took under three weeks to produce this altered slate. This could be fixed faster, if anyone truly cared at the Southland office. It only matters to the players, coaches and fans. That’s all.

Contact Doug at SBJDoug@gmail.com


Southland shuffle scuttles 70-season NSU-McNeese football rivalry

CARDINAL SIN:  The Southland Conference has halted a 70-season string of rivalry matchups between Northwestern State and McNeese, in a schedule shuffle prompted by Lamar’s return to the league this fall.

By DOUG IRELAND, Journal Sports

NATCHITOCHES – The return of Lamar to the Southland Conference was good news for Northwestern State – until Wednesday.

That’s when the conference office issued a revised 2022 conference football schedule without a matchup between NSU and its biggest rival, McNeese.

For the first time since the 1951 season (except for 2020 when the pandemic pushed the season to spring 2021), the Demons and Cowboys will not meet in football.

They were previously slated to collide in Natchitoches to end the regular season on Nov. 19, but now McNeese will meet Lamar and the Demons will face Incarnate Word in Turpin Stadium.

Earlier this year, Lamar withdrew from its brief and ill-fated membership in the Western Athletic Conference and announced it would rejoin the Southland effective with the 2023-24 athletic year. Earlier this week, Lamar and the Southland announced the Cardinals were back in the SLC effective immediately.

That decision had actually been reached some time in June, when the conference office and scheduling consultants began restructuring the Southland football slate to accommodate Lamar’s return.

NSU will play Lamar in Turpin Stadium to kick off the Southland season on Sept. 24. Earlier this week, coaches from Northwestern heard from their counterparts at McNeese that the Demons-Cowboys contest originally slated for Nov. 19 would move up to that date.

But an apparent late shuffle in the Southland office scuttled that.

Fans, coaches, and staff at Northwestern and McNeese were stunned to learn their teams would not meet, pausing the annual rivalry – the longest in the conference by far. The Southland’s failure to prioritize that matchup was already being criticized after the league’s announcement.

The revised slate didn’t impact the Demons’ non-conference slate. NSU opens at Montana and on Sept. 10 comes to Independence Stadium in Shreveport to match up against Grambling.

The Demons have only four games at home in Turpin Stadium. Twice, they will play two consecutive road games and four of their last six contests are away from Natchitoches.

The revised 2022 Northwestern State football schedule:  Sept. 3 at Montana, Sept. 10 vs. Grambling (Independence Stadium, Shreveport); Sept. 17 at Southern Mississippi; Sept. 24 home vs. Lamar*; Oct. 1 home vs. Nicholls*;  Oct. 8 at Eastern Illinois; Oct. 15 at Houston Baptist*; Oct. 22 home vs. Southeast Missouri (homecoming); Oct. 29 open date; Nov. 5 at Texas A&M-Commerce*; Nov. 12 at Southeastern Louisiana*; Nov. 19 home vs. Incarnate Word*

Note = *asterisk indicates Southland Conference games.

Contact Doug at DougIreland@LaSportsHall.com

Photo by CHRIS REICH, Northwestern State


LSU teammates teeing it up in Tahoe celebrity tourney

ENTERTAINING TIGER: LSU All-American Kyle Williams is not just a Pro Bowl football star, but he’s a funny guy. He cracked up Tim Brando (right) and Jahri Evans (left) at the Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame Roundtable Lunch two weeks ago.

By DOUG IRELAND, Journal Sports

Two weekends ago, former LSU football All-American Kyle Williams was front and center in the state’s sports spotlight as he was inducted in the Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame.

This weekend, he’s playing to a bigger audience. Williams will join his good friend and former LSU roommate Andrew Whitworth in Lake Tahoe, Nev., playing in the American Century Championship celebrity golf tournament that begins today.

Today’s first round will be carried on NBC’s Peacock Channel and NBC Sports Digital from 3-5 CT, and on GOLF Channel via tape-delay from 6:30-8:30. Saturday and Sunday, coverage will be on NBC Sports (locally KTAL-TV Channel 6) from 1:30-5.

Williams and Whitworth tuned up for Tahoe just before the LSHOF Induction Celebration, getting in a round at Louisiana’s top-ranked golf course, Squire Creek in Ruston. They were starters on LSU’s 2003 BCS national champion football team coached by Nick Saban.

Williams was the 2020 runner-up in the ACC event, leading going into the final round in his first appearance in Lake Tahoe. He plays to a zero handicap. Whitworth is listed with a 4 handicap.

The event is being billed as featuring the most celebrity-laden field in its 33-year history.

The sports and entertainment stars hitting the links along with Whitworth and Williams include Justin Timberlake; Stephen, Dell and Seth Curry; Annika Sorenstam; Patrick Mahomes; Tony Romo; Aaron Rodgers; Charles Barkley; and first-time participants Colin Jost of Saturday Night Live, WWE Superstar The Miz, and singers/songwriters Nick Jonas and Jake Owen.

Whitworth, a West Monroe native and resident who retired after his Los Angeles Rams won the Super Bowl in February, is one of a dozen rookies in the 87-person field for the 54-hole tournament.

“Whit” was named the 2021 NFL Man of the Year for his extensive charity and community work. He had four Pro Bowl appearances in his 16-year pro career, mostly in Cincinnati. At LSU, he started 52 games at left offensive tackle from 2002-05.

Williams, a Ruston native and resident, made six Pro Bowl appearances in his 13 seasons with the Buffalo Bills. A three-year starter and a 2005 All-American defensive tackle for LSU, he was elected to the LSHOF in his first year on the ballot. Whitworth will be eligible for the 2025 LSHOF class.

Among the participants this weekend are 17 members of their sports’ Hall of Fame, 13 MVP winners, multiple Cy Young and Player of the Year award winners, and several Grammy and Emmy award recipients.

Contact Doug at DougIreland@LaSportsHall.com

Photo by CHRIS REICH, LSWA


Stevenson, Wells, Lewis top SBJ’s All-Metro Boys T&F 

FINISHED WITH A FLOURISH:  Byrd senior Trent Wells has dominated the local distance scene for quite some time, but after taking the Region 1-5A 3200 crown at NSU, he pulled an impressive upset to claim his first state championship.

JOURNAL STAFF

There’s nothing subjective about track and field, so choosing the Shreveport-Bossier Journal’s All-Metro Boys Track & Field Team was simple enough.

The SBJ All-Metro teams are selected by a collaboration of Journal staff, local prep coaches and sport-specific experts. In this case, they consulted only to select the individual award winners, since best marks determined the All-Metro roster.

Those top honors required little discussion:  Byrd’s Trent Wells and Captain Shreve sprinter Marquez Stevenson were state champions and dominant all season, while Sherrod Lewis coached Loyola to the best finish by any local team at the LHSAA Outdoor Championships in Baton Rouge.

SBJ All-Metro Boys Track & Field Team

RUNNING EVENTS (distances are metric)

100

Captain Shreve’s Marquez Stevenson – 10.59 (2nd in LHSAA Class 5A state meet)

Best of the rest:  Parkway’s Jaylan White – 10.66 (5th in LHSAA Class 5A state meet)

200

Captain Shreve’s Marquez Stevenson – 21.51 (Was not able to run at District 1-5A due to cramps)

Best of the rest: Southwood’s Travian Johnson – 21.55 (Came on late to run at Region 1-5A after starting the year with a 23.64 at Yellow Jacket Relays. Finished 4th at LHSAA Class 5A state meet)

400 

Captain Shreve’s Marquez Stevenson – 47.18 – (Class 5A state outdoor champion)

Best of the rest:  Benton’s Ashton Jordan – 51.14 (Found another gear at the District 1-5A Meet, where he finished third)

800

Haughton’s Kenneth Smith -1:56.63 (Was pushed to this big PR at Region I-5A meet)

Best of the rest: Byrd’s Elliott Cochran – 1:57.45 (Was able to break 2:00 in a big way in his last HS race at Region I-5A meet)

1600

Byrd’s Trent Wells – 4:23.19 

Best of the rest:  Benton’s Mason Haley – 4:25.09

3200                                                                     

Byrd’s Trent Wells – 9:17.20 (Posted a 23-second PR to defeat the defending state champion and win his first state championship, in the last race of his amazing HS career)

Best of the rest: Benton’s Mason Haley – 9:50.52 (Was one of four who broke Wells’ Yellow Jacket Relays record with this time in mid-March)

110 hurdles

Airline’s Kye Lehr – 15.54 

Best of the rest: Airline’s Jeremiah Boudreaux – 15.95

300 hurdles

Airline’s Jeremiah Boudreaux – 39.63

Best of the rest: Airline’s Kye Lehr – 39.92

400 relay

Captain Shreve – 42.20

Best of the rest: Parkway – 42.46

800 relayAirline – 1:28.45 (The Vikings will return all four sprinters next year)

Best of the rest:  Parkway – 1:29.39

1600 relay

Parkway – 3:26.62

Best of the rest: Byrd – 3:29.59

3200 relay

Parkway – 8:19

Best of the rest: Loyola College Prep 8:25.27

FIELD EVENTS

High jump 

BTW’s Oshamar Hall – 6-8 (New uniform for the Huntington transfer)

Best of the rest: Benton’s Marc Perry – 6-4 (The sophomore won the District 1-5A title with 6-2; was No. 3 in Region I-5A with same clearance)

Triple jump

Byrd’s Xavier Anderson – 43-9 (Was feeling it at the Raider Relays; a foot better than his second best)

Best of the rest: Benton’s Marc Perry – 42-11.5 (Jumped his season best early at Benton Tiger Relays)

Long jump

Bossier’s Waunkeyus Manning – 21-9

Best of the rest: Haughton’s Amryon Lars – 21-4

Shot put

Captain Shreve’s Kaleb McHenry – 49-4 (Best in Caddo-Bossier by over two feet)

Best of the rest: Parkway’s Jake Morton – 47- 2.5 (Threw his best when it counted, at Region I-5A meet)

Javelin

Benton’s Jeffery King – 161-7.75 (Only a sophomore)

Best of the rest: Loyola’s Maximus Crofton – 157-10 (Had his best throw at Region I-3A meet; made podium at state meet)

Discus

Benton’s Davis Sellers – 153-2 (District 1-5A champion)

Best of the rest:  Parkway’s Devon Oliver – 147-5 (Only a freshman!)

Pole vault

Haughton’s Laiden Broadway – 13-0

Best of the rest: Airline’s Tyson Burns – 12-0

TOP HONORS

Performance of the Year: Byrd’s Trent Wells

In the last race of his high school career, he defeated the defending state champion in the boys’ 3200 at the LHSAA Outdoor Meet with a 23-second personal record of 9:17.20. What makes it even more impressive is that Wells had run the 1600 meters earlier in the meet, whereas the defending state champion in the event, Jesuit’s Jack Desroches, was only entered in the 3200.

Athlete of the Year: Captain Shreve’s Marquez “Macho” Stevenson

He won an indoor LHSAA State Title in the 400 meters in February and an Outdoor LHSAA State title in May. Also finished as the LHSAA outdoors state runner-up in the 100 meters (10.59) to Holy Cross’ Krosse Johnson (10.54).

Coach of the Year: Loyola College Prep’s Sherrod Lewis

The Flyers won the Region I-3A meet and scored more points than any other Caddo/Bossier team at the LHSAA State Outdoor Meet. 

Photo by DOUG IRELAND


LSU’s Williams has made his journey full circle

TIGER TALES: Ruston product Kyle Williams (right) shared the story of his home visit with then LSU-coach Nick Saban during his Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame induction interview with Victor Howell last Saturday.

By DOUG IRELAND, Journal Sports

Ruston High School’s defensive coordinator entered the Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame last weekend.

Although Kyle Williams has been successful in that post since he came back to his hometown, it obviously was what he accomplished in 13 NFL seasons, in four years at LSU, and in his own playing career with the Ruston Bearcats that earned his spot in the LSHOF Class of 2022.

Now, he’s paying back that success and investing in the future as an assistant coach for the Bearcats. Williams made sure to thank his coaches, from his junior high days forward, for their impact on him and thousands of other kids, and said those coaches have inspired him.

“The only reason I’m coaching is because of the tremendous impact coaches had on me,” said Williams. “That, and we have five kids who are going to be coming through Ruston High School over the next 15 years, and I’m gonna be able to keep an eye out. I don’t plan on doing anything else for quite a while.

“But truly, the chance to develop young people, work alongside some fine people and excellent coaches, and win some football games along the way is a wonderful experience for me.”

Williams, who was the Class 5A Defensive MVP in 2001 at RHS, was heavily recruited. But it became clear that he was bound for Baton Rouge.

“You’ve got (LSU head coach) Nick Saban and (defensive line coach) Pete Jenkins sitting in your living room, and Coach Saban isn’t letting you consider any other choice. He’s saying, ‘Kyle, you know you could go someplace else, but with the other players we have, we’re gonna win championships. We’re gonna beat everybody else, you know. You need to be with us at LSU.’

“And standing behind him is my Mom, and she’s saying not so softly, ‘YES. Yes!’ It was kinda clear cut what I needed to do,” said Williams on stage in last Saturday’s induction ceremony. “And it was the best decision.”

As he left Ruston for Baton Rouge, Williams carried a sense of responsibility that he shared with the dozens of classmates, family, friends and coaches who attended the induction.

“I want you all to know. It was very, very important for me to represent you extremely well,” he said.

Mission accomplished. In his sophomore year, the Tigers won the 2003 national championship. They kept winning and he earned All-America honors as a defensive tackle in his senior season, was a fifth-round NFL Draft pick, and immediately established himself as one of the league’s better interior defenders. Williams won Pro Bowl honors six times in his 13-year stay in Buffalo.

Williams’ dorm roommate in Baton Rouge? A rival from his high school days, and another hugely successful NFL star, offensive tackle Andrew Whitworth, from West Monroe. Both kept their roots at home. Williams and Whitworth played golf earlier last week and stay in close contact.

Home is where the heart is for both. Williams said sharing the LSHOF festivities with his wife Jill, a Baton Rouge native, and their five kids was a joy.

“It’s been great. The best thing has been the opportunity to share it with my kids. They’ve been able to run around and enjoy all the events, and also enjoy some of the success that brought us here.

“They experienced our days in Buffalo. They were glued into the NFL side of things, but when we do go to Baton Rouge, they see pictures and an All-America listing and the national championship trophy and they’re getting an understanding of those days when Jill and I met,” he said. “This weekend adds to their appreciation and that’s been wonderful.”

Contact Doug at DougIreland@LaSportsHall.com
Photo by CHRIS REICH, LSWA


LSU’s Jackson tumbles into Hall of Fame enshrinement

ACTION JACKSON: LSU gymnastics great Susan Jackson added a special spark to the opening of the Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame induction ceremony last Saturday, delighting fellow inductees (from right) Steve Duhon and Garland Forman, along with everyone else.

By DOUG IRELAND, Journal Sports

NATCHITOCHES – Susan Jackson had seen it before, the Walk of Legends that opens every Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame induction ceremony.

It’s a stirring start. After the national anthem, past Hall of Fame inductees are introduced with the theme from “The Natural” playing in the background. Each hero (19 were there this time) strides to the middle of the stage, turns and faces hundreds of guests and the TV audience, and the inductee waves, briefly basking in the glow, and exits the other side of the platform.

Then the current inductees (this time the Class of 2022) get introduced, also one-by-one, alphabetically. But after acknowledging the cheering crowd, they don’t exit the stage quite yet. The first inductee in the class plays catcher, ensuring the rest don’t depart for their seats before the class picture can be taken.

So our own Teddy Allen, 2022 Distinguished Service Award in Sports Journalism recipient, grinned modestly, bowed, waved and walked to the right edge of the stage, then stopped and went into catcher mode. No excited fellow inductee would get past Teddy.

Not the emotional siblings of the late Eric Andolsek. Not Jay Cicero, burly rodeo cowboy Steve Duhon, or Claney Duplechin. Not even big Jahri Evans, or Cory Martin, the super-charged great grandson of 1932 USA Olympic gold medal-winning boxer Eddie Flynn. Not fellow journalism award winner Garland Forman.

But then came Jackson, all 4-foot-11 of her, the three-time NCAA champion gymnast at LSU, a 12-time All-American from 2007-10, a member of Team USA at age 11, bubbling up the three steps to the stage.

At the bottom of those steps, a moment earlier, she made an unusual request of the LSHOF staffer cueing the inductees.

“This needs SOMETHING. Can I cartwheel up there?,” she whispered, eyes dancing.

So for the first time in 63 induction classes, somebody entered the Hall of Fame actually flipping over it.

At the other end of the stage, the normally unflappable Teddy Allen, annually the master of ceremonies with a quip for every eventuality, froze. His face was a combination of glee and panic. Would Susan STOP in the middle of the stage, or would he have to catch her before she tumbled one time too many?

Just like she did in routine after routine in her competitive career, Jackson hit her mark, to the delight of the crowd, which erupted in laughter and roars. And to the great relief of Allen, who joined in, with the rest of Susan’s classmates.

“That’s just Susan,” laughed her coach at LSU, 2017 inductee D-D Breaux. “She’s going to brighten everything she does and everybody she meets. We didn’t really coach her much. She was technically wonderful when she got to us, and she worked so hard, every day.

“She is so smart, so charismatic, so passionate, so dedicated,” said Breaux, whose induction five years ago was the first LSHOF ceremony Jackson witnessed. She had seen it before.

Honing her natural talent into a national champion was the job of Breaux and assistant coach Bob Moore, who echoed his former boss’ thoughts on Jackson.

“Susan and I worked at this coaching thing as more of a partnership than a traditional athlete and coach,” Moore said. “We worked together. We were honest with each other. I can’t take credit for anything. The greatness was already there. I had the good fortune to help her relax and reach out and get her potential.”

And when she improvised, back then and last Saturday night, Breaux and Moore cheered like everybody else.

Contact Doug at DougIreland@LaSportsHall.com

Photo by CHRIS REICH, LSWA


Happy New (Fiscal) Year’s Eve to our unsung athletic heroes

It’s New Year’s Eve!

Not in Times Square, but in the hearts of those who keep the money straight for every branch and twig of the state of Louisiana.

Tomorrow begins fiscal year 2022-23. That new state budget you heard the legislature passed without too much pushing or shoving, with a not totally terrible amount of pork attached, starts functioning.

Today, the books that accountants in every state agency have been trying to close for weeks get slammed shut. That’s all but finished anyway, but today, it’s like Dunkirk. Those money people, trapped and huddled on a beach, float out to sea and the next time they touch ground, it’s in the Land O’ Plenty.

People like Flo Miskelley and Roxanne Freeman, and more accurately, those who should role model Flo and Rox, get their mojo back. They can dole out dollars again, not pinch pennies.

You’ve heard of the Tommy McClellands and the Eric Woods, and the Tynes Hildebrands and the Greg Burkes, those AD-types who introduce new coaches, extend some and have to fire others, and make major announcements and shake many hands, keeping fans happy and donors content as possible.

You’ve heard of the Brad Lairds and Bobby Barbiers, the Lane Burroughs and Brooke Stoehrs, the coaches who get a bit worked up on the sidelines at times and seem like such beautiful humans away from scoreboards. Coaches like to say, “It’s not the X’s and O’s, it’s the Jimmys and Joes,” explaining that who is playing has the most to do with who wins, not what the coaches decide to call.

Not enough people off campus at Louisiana Tech or Northwestern State have any idea how Flo and Rox made life better and work easier for those named above, those who came before them, and their colleagues past and present.

So far the Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame has not inducted, or ever considered inducting, college athletic business managers. Flo and Rox make me think twice about that. Flo, especially, has a record that stacks up into the “viable nominee” category for the Dave Dixon Louisiana Sports Leadership Award, other than the fact that she was never technically a leader, never wanted to be, and was very comfortable, just like Rox, of being a below-the-radar unsung hero. So we’ll settle for a dash of spotlight in the next few words.

Flo Miskelley is a whole ‘nother column, really, a series of them. She was hired as Joe Aillet’s secretary and ticket manager. Had asked to work anywhere BUT athletics, and spent the next 40 years right there, making it work for everyone else. A few seasons later, she stepped out of secretary mode, kept the ticket work and added business management responsibilities.

Couples who had season tickets divorced, and Flo would have to put seats for an ex and new companion in another desirable but not nearby location at Aillet Stadium. Meanwhile, she kept the fuel flowing in the Tech sports coffers, and when it didn’t, Flo always found ways to compensate so coaches could still compete and win. Think about the national champion football teams in the ’70’s and the Lady Techsters’ hoops dynasty, and realize there were other sports that didn’t have that support. But most of the time, you couldn’t easily know that, and Flo was a big reason why.

Roxanne Freeman was Sam Goodwin’s football secretary, and loved it. But she put herself back in college classes, earned a degree and stepped up into administration when opportunity arose. She stayed there for 20 years and now can be seen in the stands at many NSU events.

Her predecessor was a wonderful fellow from my hometown of Jonesboro, Jack Freeman, a true gentleman whose smile disarmed any coach who was frustrated about his program’s finances. Going further back in fiscal history at NSU, you’ll find Loneta Graves, a Steel Magnolia if ever there was one, a woman who seemed like a unicorn in a man’s world of money-handling in the ’60s and ’70s. She went to work as an account clerk at Louisiana Normal in 1943 and gradually rose in the ranks, becoming a trailblazing Northwestern vice president in 1972.

In this 50th anniversary summer of Title IX, she’s more than a footnote. She was responsible for convincing Northwestern president Dr. Arnold Kilpatrick that there was money and merit to funding the first 10 athletic scholarships for women in the history of colleges and universities in Louisiana. In April 1975, Northwestern set an example that LSU and Tech and the rest followed in the months and years ahead.

They won’t go in the state Hall of Fame. Flo and Rox may not get in the Halls at Tech or NSU (Ms. Graves did get a Distinguished Service Award in 2008 from the N-Club HOF at Northwestern).

But they deserve appreciation, and on New Fiscal Year Eve, it’s a perfect time to toss some to them and those who are doing what they used to do, at NSU, Tech, Grambling, ULM, BPCC, LSUS, Centenary, and the rest.

The games don’t get played without them issuing purchase orders and requisitions for equipment, for supplies, for checks to game officials, for travel expenses on the road … the list isn’t endless but it seems to be.

Today, NFYE, the folks who make the money flow in athletic departments around our state are walking on air. Tomorrow is even better. There’s money to spend. And then, how sweet it is, they enjoy a long holiday weekend.

It’s not like a contract renewal, or a bonus, but along with this tribute, it’s a little something, anyway.

Contact Doug at DougIreland@LaSportsHall.com


SPOTLIGHT: After quite a debut at LSU, Duhon traded helmet for hat and found fame

LSU’s LOSS, RODEO’S GAIN: Steve Duhon instantly made an impact as a true freshman linebacker at LSU but decided his future was on horseback, a path that carried him to worldwide fame and enshrinement last Saturday in the Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame.

By DOUG IRELAND, Journal Sports

Steve Duhon grew up on the rodeo circuit, found himself playing football at Tiger Stadium, and despite a productive true freshman season on coach Jerry Stovall’s LSU squad, quickly realized he was best suited for a cowboy hat and jeans, not shoulder pads and a helmet.

Duhon was among the 12-member Class of 2022 inducted last weekend in the Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame during festivities in and around the LSHOF museum in Natchitoches.

Like many Louisiana boys, the Opelousas native grew up an LSU fan, although he didn’t entertain serious interest in playing for the Tigers. But after he ran for over 3,300 yards and made 148 tackles as a linebacker in his senior season in 1980, and won all-state honors for a third straight season at Belmont Academy, college recruiters finally began to notice. He was an honorable mention All-American.

LSU assistant Bishop Harris helped convince Duhon to give Tiger football a try. He made an instant impression as a backup linebacker and special teams player, posting 19 tackles in 1981 as a true freshman. He broke his shoulder in the seventh game but played on, showing the toughness of – yes, a rodeo cowboy.

“You can’t get anything done watching,” he said while in Natchitoches. “I’d been banged up in rodeo, so playing through it was second nature for me.”

But the following April, Duhon realized his true love was not the thrill of playing in front of a packed Tiger Stadium, but being on the back of a horse in a rodeo arena, which he had done almost since he could walk, following in the footsteps of his father and older brother. So he strode into Stovall’s office and said it was best if he left LSU football and put his full focus on chasing the rodeo dream.

“I walked into Broussard Hall for preseason, and there’s Leonard Marshall, the defensive tackle (and a future LSHOF inductee after a long career with the New York Giants) who seemed like was 6-8 and 325, and I weighed 195 dripping wet. I thought, ‘Hey, I can play behind a guy like that.’

“That was fun. But I knew in my bones my place was in rodeo, and if I was gonna get where I wanted to be, making a living at it, I needed to get going that direction,” said Duhon, who now lives on a farm near Jasper, Texas.

Leaving LSU was the right move for him.

While starring first in baseball, which he had to give up so he could compete in high school rodeo at the same time of year, Duhon showed at Belmont Academy he was no ordinary cowboy. He was a 1980 and 1981 state champion steer wrestler and the 1981 national high school reserve champion cowboy.

His pro career took off in 1985, when he won the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association’s Resistol Rookie of the Year Award. Continuing success carried him to the Pro Rodeo Hall of Fame (inducted in 2003) and the National Cowboy Hall of Fame (Class of 2018). Duhon won three world championships (1986, 1987 and 1993) as a steer wrestler and qualified for the National Finals Rodeo eight times.

A world record run of 3.0 seconds set at the National Finals Rodeo in 1986 shocked neither Duhon nor those who befriended and competed against him.

“Steve had ice water in his veins,” fellow cowboy and competitor Tody Roach said. “The more pressure, the better he liked it. He made most his fame and fortune in the Pro Rodeo Cowboys Association as a steer wrestler, but there are a lot of people, like calf ropers and team ropers, who are glad he didn’t hone in on those events.”

Contact Doug at DougIreland@LaSportsHall.com

Photo by CHRIS REICH, LSWA


Haughton’s hero: Joe Delaney starred at NSU, in NFL, before this day in 1983

JOE D: Haughton’s Joe Delaney is shown on the Northwestern State sideline during the Demons’ 1980 State Fair Classic contest at Independence Stadium against Louisiana Tech.

By DOUG IRELAND, Journal Sports

Thirty-nine years ago today, on a steamy afternoon in Monroe, Haughton native Joe Delaney gave his life trying to save three drowning children.

The Northwestern State two-sport All-American and Kansas City Chiefs Pro Bowl running back was attending a water park outing for children at Chennault Park when he heard cries for help from a nearby oxidation pond outside the park.

He handed his wallet to a bystander, telling him, “I can’t swim good, but I’ve got to try to help those kids,” and dashed a couple hundred yards to the pond, and leaped in. He never made it back out. One child did.

Delaney was a two-time All-America running back in 1979-80 for the Demons, and joined Mark Duper, Victor Oatis and Mario Johnson on the Demons’ 1981 NCAA championship 4×100 meter relay team, earning All-America honors.

Delaney was the 1981 AFC Rookie of the Year for the Chiefs and played in the Pro Bowl. Pro Football Hall of Fame coach Marv Levy, who drafted Delaney in the second round of the 1981 draft and coached him in 1981-82, said Delaney was one of the five best players he coached in his 45-year career, including nearly 30 years in the NFL.

Delaney left behind his wife, Carolyn, and their three young daughters. His heroic act matched his selfless lifestyle and coupled with his astounding athletic career to make him an instant icon in north Louisiana and elsewhere far beyond the sports world. Among those attending his funeral: then-Vice President George H.W. Bush.

His No. 44 Demon football jersey was retired at halftime of his final game at NSU. Since his death, no Kansas City player has worn his No. 37. He is immortalized in several ways at Northwestern, including plaques at Turpin Stadium and the Ledet Track Complex, and with the permanent football team captains receiving Joe Delaney Memorial Leadership Awards annually. The Demons’ spring football game has been known as the Joe Delaney Bowl since 1989.

He was the subject of a 2015 film titled “Delaney,” part of ESPN Films’ 30 for 30 Shorts series.

The Joe Delaney Park in Haughton honors his memory and provides play space for youth in his hometown. Swimming lessons are taught in his name in Kansas City, supported by The 37 Forever Foundation.

Two years ago, a monument honoring Delaney was dedicated at the site of the drowning in Monroe’s Chennault Park. The mayor of Kansas City declared Oct. 30, 2020 as “Joe Delaney Day” on what would have been his 62nd birthday.

Last year, a two-mile stretch of I-435 going past Arrowhead Stadium in Kansas City was renamed “Joe Delaney Memorial Highway.”

Delaney was posthumously awarded the Presidential Citizen’s Medal from President Ronald Reagan, presented at his funeral by then Vice President Bush to the Delaney family. Delaney is enshrined in the N Club Hall of Fame, the Ark-La-Tex Museum of Champions, the Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame, the College Football Hall of Fame, and the Chiefs’ Ring of Honor at Arrowhead Stadium in Kansas City.

Photo courtesy Northwestern State


Hall of Fame festivities start this evening in Natchitoches

By DOUG IRELAND, Journal Sports

What’s a celebration in our state without plenty of tasty food, a festive serving of homegrown musical talent, fun for kids of all ages, and laughter and inspiration for all?

Louisiana’s biggest summertime sports showcase unfolds in Natchitoches this weekend, and it’s all that and more. Two local men, Shreveport native Jay Cicero and Shreveport resident Teddy Allen, are among this year’s inductees.

Kickoff is this evening, celebrating the Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame’s Class of 2022, a dozen men and women whose accomplishments have indelibly altered the state’s sports landscape – and in the case of the nine athletes and coaches being inducted, they have made waves on the national and even in some cases, world sports circles.

WORLD?  Dr. Eddie Flynn, from Loyola University in New Orleans, won an Olympic gold medal in boxing. Opelousas native Steve Duhon stopped playing football, quite well, at LSU to start a career that landed him in the Pro Rodeo Hall of Fame.

On the national stage, the Class of 2022 has a pair of NFL stars who both played in six Pro Bowls — New Orleans Saints guard Jahri Evans, a key in the Black and Gold’s Super Bowl triumph, and Ruston native and resident Kyle Williams, who was part of LSU’s 2003 national championship team, later an All-American for the Tigers, and one of the most impactful players in Buffalo Bills history. Another former Tiger great, the late Eric Andolsek, was emerging as one of the NFL’s top offensive linemen before his untimely loss.

In the 50th anniversary year of Title IX, the LSHOF celebrates two of LSU’s best female student-athletes:  three-time NCAA gymnastics champion and SEC women’s Athlete of the Year Susan Jackson, and two-time All-America softball pitcher Britni Sneed Williams.

There’s fabulous coaches, too. Only one coach in the history of high school sports in America has won more state championships than Claney Duplechin’s 65 titles in cross country and track at Episcopal High in Baton Rouge. The late Tony Robichaux is the only college baseball coach in the country to be the all-time winningest coach at two different programs (McNeese, UL Lafayette) in the same state.

Sports journalists Allen (a Journal columnist and writer) and Garland Forman are still producing spellbinding stories, and as the CEO of the Greater New Orleans Sports Foundation, Cicero continues to stage world-class sports events in the Crescent City. The Loyola High School grad and former Shreveport Captains staffer started with the GNOSF helping stage the 1992 USA Olympic Trials and has been a guiding force since  behind the scenes in Super Bowls, Final Fours and national championship games.

It’s a dynamic dozen comprising the Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame’s Class of 2022, and their Induction Celebration is open to everyone.

The Class of 2022 will enter the Hall officially Saturday at a ceremony in the Natchitoches Events Center to culminate the weekend.  It will mark the 50th anniversary of the first LSHOF induction in Natchitoches, when Pro Football Hall of Fame quarterback Y.A. Tittle was enshrined in a ceremony at halftime of a Northwestern State basketball game, after a celebratory dinner at the home of NSU President Dr. Arnold Kilpatrick.

There’s a lot more to the festivities now, and there’s no cost to attend several of the events, beginning this evening with the free to all  La Capitol Welcome Reception from 5-7 at the $23 million, nine-year-old LSHOF Museum in downtown Natchitoches.

The three-day festivities include two receptions, a free youth clinic, a bowling party, and a free Friday night riverbank concert in Natchitoches with fireworks and hot music.

Opening the show at 6 Friday downtown will be rising country and rock musician M.J. DarDar of Lafayette, followed by headliner Rockin’ Dopsie Jr. and the Zydeco Twisters, who lit up the Rue Beauport stage at the 2019 River Fest and have played the White House, Wheel of Fortune and with musicians as diverse as James Brown, Bob Dylan, Paul Simon, Tina Turner and Britney Spears.

The full schedule of events and purchases for ticketed events culminating with the Induction Ceremony are available through the LaSportsHall.com website or by calling 318-332-8539.

Contact Doug at DougIreland@LaSportsHall.com


Step inside the highlight reel this weekend in Natchitoches

We’re sports fans. We go bonkers when our team or favorite athlete does something special. We treasure some of those memories for a lifetime.

Saints fans, remember where you watched Super Bowl XLIV? How you wanted to personally party with the Lombardi?

What about when the LSU Tigers won their first national championship since 1958? Nick Saban and a gold-standard coaching staff carried the long downtrodden Bayou Bengals to glory in the Sugar Bowl.

Everybody: we all walk a little taller every time an American wins an Olympic gold me0al.

We are extremely impressed when a pitcher throws a no-hitter. How about 10?

And we’re in awe when an individual competitor wins a national championship. Or three, in gymnastics.

Ever ride a horse? How about competitively, in a horse show or a rodeo? Could you imagine winning a world’s championship (three, actually) as a Professional Rodeo Cowboy?

Are you watching the College World Series? Baseball or softball, can you imagine what it was like to be in uniform?

What about being a coach whose program gets on an incredible roll – 10 state championships in a row?Can you believe that coach and his program eventually won 25 straight state cross country crowns among 64 LHSAA championships in cross country, indoor and outdoor track and field?

What’s that like?

We all watch the Super Bowl, the Final Four, bowl games, including those in the BCS national championship series. Imagine being at the forefront of pulling off those events in an administrative role.

For those of us who believe the most talented NFL running back in our lifetime was not named Smith or Payton, but Barry Sanders, he who retired at the top of his game, so what was it like to block for Number 20? That space he found was created by some big men. What if I told you one, the very best one, was from LSU?

All of those achievements generated miles of stories in newspapers. Wouldn’t it be extremely cool to be one of the people sitting in the press box watching, writing, and providing everyone else a memorable description of what just happened, and why it mattered?

What if I told you instead of just remembering or reading about all those things, you could meet many of the people who made them happen? Thursday evening. For free. In Natchitoches, at the Welcome Reception at the Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame museum.

Friday night. For free. On the Natchitoches riverbank at Rockin’ River Fest, a free concert, with fireworks.

If you have a kid, age 7-17, Saturday morning, yes, I’ll say it again, FREE. Get tips from many of these stars at the New Orleans Saints and Pelicans Junior Training Camp on the Northwestern State campus.

And you can see these legends of their games enshrined in the Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame, with some of our state’s sports greats on stage with them, at the Saturday evening Kickoff Reception at the LSHOF Museum followed by the ceremony at the Natchitoches Events Center (now that isn’t free; you can buy tickets for that event, or the Roundtable Luncheon with our buddy Timmy B as MC,  at LaSportsHall.com or by calling 318-238-4255).

Talk to Jahri Evans about being in the huddle with Drew Brees, and playing in six Pro Bowls.

Ask Kyle Williams about his three years starting at defensive tackle for LSU, and HIS six Pro Bowls while becoming one of the most admired players in Buffalo Bills history.

Eddie Flynn won boxing gold for the USA 90 years ago, in the Los Angeles Olympics of 1932. His great grandson Cory Martin will be in Natchitoches and knows all the stories.

Britni Sneed Newman fired those 10 no-hitters and led the LSU softball team to its first CWS. On the bigger diamond, the late Tony Robichaux guided the UL-Lafayette Ragin’ Cajuns to the 2000 CWS and 14 years later, a No. 1 national ranking. And he won more college baseball games than Skip Bertman.

Susan Jackson owns three NCAA gymnastics titles and is a 12-time All-American for LSU.

Steve Duhon might be the nicest, toughest guy you ever meet. He’s in the Pro Rodeo Hall of Fame and the Cowboy Hall of Fame. He also played linebacker in Tiger Stadium, BTW.

Claney Duplechin’s coaching career began in football, but as a track coach he has become one of the most successful prep coaches in any sport, anywhere.

Eric Andolsek left us too young, but his family and friends are eager to tell you about their Cajun Atlas.

Two local guys are going in – Loyola grad and former Shreveport Captains employee Jay Cicero, and our own, incomparable scribe, Teddy Allen. They’re big timers in our back yard.

Come join their party, starting Thursday evening. You deserve it. They ALL will love to visit with you. And tell you their stories.

Email Doug at DougIreland@LaSportsHall.com


Burroughs waves off move, says he’s staying put at Tech 

PINE STRAW, NOT TUMBLEWEEDS: Louisiana Tech baseball coach Lane Burroughs has taken himself out of the mix for posts at Baylor, Kansas and Tulane, and says he’s rooted in Ruston. 

By DOUG IRELAND, Journal Sports

Not so fast, my friends, Louisiana Tech baseball coach Lane Burroughs said Tuesday night.

Burroughs was reportedly a strong contender for the vacant head coaching post at Baylor, according to reputable national media reports, and was also said to be among four favorites at Kansas and in consideration at Tulane.

But in a Tweet sent shortly before 10 p.m. last night, he halted speculation he was outbound.

“This (train icon) ain’t stopping!!! Get on board or get off the track!!  #JYD23” – with the hashtag referring to “Junkyard Dogs ’23.”

Burroughs later confirmed to The Journal  he is staying put in Ruston and will return for his seventh season at J.C. Love Field at Pat Patterson Park next spring.

His commitment to Tech came after a flurry of speculation, peaking Tuesday afternoon, that he was a prime candidate at Baylor and on a short list at Kansas, and perhaps, Tulane.

Baseball America’s Teddy Cahill tweeted Tuesday afternoon that Burroughs was “emerging as the top target” for Baylor, with that report shared locally by Alex Anderson of KTBS TV in the station’s 6 p.m. newscast.

SI.com (Sports Illustrated) Baylor beat writer Connor Zimmerlee also wrote Tuesday that a two-week search seemed to be focusing on the Bulldogs’ coach, 205-111 (.649) in six seasons (since 2017) in Ruston.

D1Baseball.com managing editor and ESPN college baseball analyst Kendall Rogers reported Tuesday Burroughs was  “in the mix” in Baylor’s search but cited other, arguably stronger possibilities to replace Steve Rodriguez, who stepped down last month after going 197-145 in seven seasons. The Bears were just 18-30 in the Big 12 Conference in the last two seasons, failing to reach an NCAA Regional after three in a row from 2017-19.

KUSports.com reported Burroughs was in a “top tier” among four of the Jayhawks’ possible candidates for on-campus interviews. Burroughs was an assistant at Kansas State in 2008.

Burroughs has just guided Tech to its two best seasons this century, and arguably in the history of the program.  The Bulldogs have an 85-41 record in that span, posting a 42-20 mark in 2021 while fitting into national Top 25 rankings and approaching Top 10 status. Tech was awarded one of 16 NCAA Regional host bids but was upset by eventual College World Series semifinalist North Carolina State.

This spring, the Diamond Dogs went 43-21, won the Conference USA Tournament and played in the NCAA Austin Regional hosted by CWS qualifier Texas.

Burroughs has had nine straight winning seasons after picking up the pieces of a struggling Northwestern State program and going 16-40 in his first year. He went 97-73 afterward with his Demons posting three straight top three finishes in the Southland Conference and a 59-29 league mark in his last three seasons.

Tech hired him away from Northwestern following the 2016 season after four seasons as head coach. He had arrived as a young assistant coach at NSU after the 1997 season, hired in the summer by current Arkansas coach Dave Van Horn, and was the only remaining staffer after Van Horn departed in December to become head coach at Nebraska. Burroughs was retained in January 1998 by newly-hired NSU coach John Cohen, who went on to great success as head coach at NSU, Kentucky and Mississippi State and is now athletic director at State. Burroughs was Cohen’s lead assistant coach in Starkville, helping the Bulldogs to within a game of the College World Series prior to taking the Demons’ head coaching job in June 2012.

Amid the circumstances, Burroughs uncharacteristically missed a planned Monroe sports talk show appearance Tuesday afternoon. He is slated to be a guest Thursday afternoon locally at 5:30 on the popular “SportsTalk with J.J. and Bonzai Ben” radio show on 1130 AM: The TIger.

Photo by TOM MORRIS, Louisiana Tech


SPOTLIGHT: Former Demon QB finding success south of the border

HAPPY ENDING: Former Northwestern State quarterback Shelton Eppler and his new wife Skylar celebrated his Mexico Bowl victory.

By DOUG IRELAND, Journal Sports

Millions of kids grow up dreaming of playing pro football. None of those dreams involve Denmark or Mexico.

That’s where football has carried former Northwestern State quarterback Shelton Eppler.

He grew up a few miles south of College Station, and sure, he imagined playing for the Texas A&M Aggies and hearing his name called at the NFL Draft. His pathway from Navasota didn’t follow that route.

But after winning a state title in high school, and rewriting records at Trinity Valley Community College and Northwestern, Eppler is basking in the glow of being the winning quarterback in a pro championship game.

His latest glory came in Mexico Bowl V, leading Fundidores Monterrey to the Liga de Futbol Americano Professional title a couple of weekends ago in Tijuana with his new bride, former NSU volleyball player Skylar Besch, and their parents in the stands. Eppler led a go-ahead drive to the decisive TD with three minutes left, thrilling a national television audience in the Fundidores’ 18-14 win.

If that’s not all a bit out of the mainstream for you, consider this: Eppler’s successful Mexican season began with practice just after his honeymoon ended. Shelton and Skylar were married on Super Bowl Eve, stayed in Texas to enjoy watching the big game the following evening, then jetted down for a blissful week in, you guessed it, Mexico, at a Cancun resort they already plan to revisit.

“Two days after the honeymoon, I had to fly back to Mexico to join the team, so that was a little difficult,” he said. “That’s a great way to spend your first three months of marriage.”

Fortunately, Mrs. Eppler was able to visit a few times before the championship game. Now they’re home in Lake Travis, Texas, working for her dad’s insurance company. Shelton’s been doing that since graduating with honors from Northwestern, selling insurance even while he was in Denmark for eight months in 2021 and in Monterrey this spring.

His shot at pro ball was curtailed, like everything else, by the pandemic. There was no 2020 Pro Day at NSU or many other places. Eppler nosed around and eventually connected with a Danish team. Spending eight months with the Aalborg 89ers, he led them to the playoff semifinals with over 1,723 passing yards and 17 TDs.

He came home last October, preparing for the wedding, selling insurance and open to football opportunities. The life-changing connection dated back to his junior year in high school, when Navasota played a Mexican team while going 16-0 and winning the Texas 4A crown as he threw 71 TD passes.

That team’s offensive line coach is the Fundidores’ offensive coordinator. They needed a quarterback and made Eppler an attractive offer. He was the last player to arrive, due to his wedding, and two weeks later, the season was underway. A bye in Week Two was well-timed. But the key to Eppler’s success and sanity? Navigating the language barrier.

That wasn’t a problem in Denmark, where nearly everyone speaks some English. But not so in Mexico.

“It was so hard to understand. Anything involving food, I pretty much got. Numbers, like calling plays and formations, I understood that, and player personnel was pretty easy. But having an in-depth conversation, getting to know your teammates, was difficult,” said Eppler.

He was among six American imports – three he played against in the Southland Conference, two from McNeese and one from Abilene Christian. Another was a former junior college teammate. The MVP was a Finnish teammate who spoke four languages, including Spanish and English.

The rest of the players came from Mexican colleges. The caliber of play was far above what he encountered in Denmark.

“There, they treat it like a hobby. We only had practice twice a week, Tuesday and Thursday nights after the workday. But in Mexico, we practiced daily and played weekly. The level of play wasn’t D-1 Northwestern State caliber, but it was the best league I’ve been in outside of college,” he said.

There was upside to the slow pace in Denmark after he arrived in March 2021. The 89ers played only eight games in eight months, once every two weeks. There was a two-week break between seasons, when Eppler made a trip to Italy for 11 days.

“Once you were in the (European Union), you were able to travel around the EU. We were the only Americans in Italy at the time, so we got the full experience,” he said.

The focus was all on football in Mexico, something that came second nature for him.

Eppler’s Demon career wrapped up in 2019 with 6,226 passing yards in two seasons among his 18 school records. This spring, he put up comparatively modest numbers, throwing for over 1,800 passing yards and 15 touchdowns. But he is a frontrunner for the league’s MVP award after becoming the first foreigner to quarterback a league championship team.

“It was a crazy ride, but definitely worthwhile. I won’t play in Denmark again, but Mexico is a possibility next year,” he said.

“It is a great chance to keep playing while financially helping my family’s future. They have great ties to the CFL for a chance to see if I could keep playing at the next level. All options are definitely open.”


Tech’s NCAA regional hopes likely hinge on happiness in Hattiesburg

TAYLOR TROT:  Louisiana Tech senior Taylor Young, touching them all in a mid-season game, leads the NCAA with 81 runs scored.

By DOUG IRELAND, Journal Sports

HATTIESBURG, Miss. – For Louisiana Tech to get to next week, the Bulldogs first must flash back to last week.

The second-seeded Diamond Dogs (38-18) square off against No. 7 Charlotte (35-20) today in a meeting slated for 12:30 in the Conference USA Tournament, a double-elimination, eight-team event at the home field of regular-season champion Southern Miss.

Tech and Charlotte met in North Carolina last week, with the Bulldogs bouncing back from a loss Thursday to top the 49ers in the final two games of the regular season. Those outcomes cooled off a sizzling Charlotte squad that had won 12 of its last 13 in league play.

 The Bulldogs are hoping to qualify for their second straight NCAA Tournament by doing something the record-shattering 2021 team did not – win the conference tournament. Falling short of that, Lane Burrough’s 2022 squad probably needs at least a couple of wins, and possibly surviving into weekend play, to enhance its chances for an at-large NCAA invitation, according to some college baseball analysts.

While USM is nationally-ranked and certain to be playing next week, perhaps as a regional host, Tech and the other two teams closest to the Golden Eagles (Old Dominion and UTSA) all have RPI between 45-48 and finished within a game of each other in the C-USA standings.  Those most successful this week are likely to be playing next week.

Getting to NCAA play would mark the first time since Pat Patterson was coaching the Bulldogs, in 1986-87 when Tech was in the Southland Conference, that the program reached the regionals in back-to-back seasons.

Tech will face either No. 3 ODU or No. 6 Middle Tennessee Thursday, playing at either 9 a.m. (elimination bracket) or again at 12:30.

Six Bulldogs made the all-conference team announced Tuesday. Third baseman Logan McLeod won Defensive Player of the Year honors. Infielder Taylor Young, outfielder Cole McConnell and reliever Kyle Crigger were named as first-team selections while catcher Jorge Corona, starting pitcher Cade Gibson and reliever Ryan Harland earned second-team honors.

Young, a fifth-year senior, ended the regular season leading the nation with 81 runs scored. The West Monroe native started all 56 games at shortstop and has played in 222 consecutive games dating back to April 6, 2018.  He owns a .351 batting average and is second in the conference with a .500 on-base percentage. He leads the Bulldogs with 20 doubles, leads the conference with 51 walks and has 23 multi-hit games.

McConnell, a third-year sophomore, sits second in the conference and 10th in the nation with 71 RBI and hit .341 during the regular season.

Crigger appeared in a team-leading 30 games while tossing in 56.2 innings in relief, posting a 1.43 ERA ranking him the fourth in the country. Tech’s senior closer has held opponents to a .211 batting average and ranks tied for first in the conference with 10 saves.

Photo by TOM MORRIS, Louisiana Tech


PGA Championship drama: we all picked JT, didn’t we?

What kind of major golf championship was THAT?

No defending champion. Stupidity, Phil Mickelson.

No Chilean champion. Audacity, Mito Pereira.

No first-time champion. Step back, Will Zalatoris.

A champion who hit two shots in a row, in the final round, horribly, just like me? Why, salute to one of the best shotmakers in golf, Justin Thomas.

That’s what we got from Tulsa Town, with the 123rd PGA Championship at fabled Southern Hills Country Club.Another one of the PGA Tour’s better shotmakers, Shreveport’s Sam Burns, lurked in hailing distance of the lead Saturday and Sunday, leaving us with anticipation for Father’s Day weekend and the U.S. Open, and many majors to come.

Burns was never quite close enough Sunday to make you think that Shreveport-Bossier might produce another major champion at Southern Hills – or a third Wanamaker Trophy winner, following Hal Sutton (1983) and David Toms (2001). Former local caddie and club pro Tommy Bolt, who moved to Shreveport when he was 6 and dropped out of Byrd High in his sophomore year, won the first major played at Southern Hills, the 1958 U.S. Open, four shots better than a fairly famous foreigner, Gary Player.

Back to Burns for a moment. He’s got the talent and the game and the low-key personality that is comparable to Thomas. After the Calvary Baptist grad and LSU All-American narrowly missed a spot on the 2021 Ryder Cup team, none other than Mickelson, then a USA vice captain, said this:

“Look at Sam Burns, he was inches away from being on (the team). He’ll most likely, definitely, be on the next one. I just don’t see how a guy that talented won’t be.”

There’s one thing, in fact, one of the last things, that Phil’s said that’s easy to understand.

His reprehensible alignment with the Saudi-backed LIV Golf loop starting up with big money appearance guarantees is rooted in his horrific gambling losses and continuing financial stumbles. A guy whose persona has been undeniably charming on the course and in the public eye reportedly blew $40 million betting from 2010-14. Not a crime, but a shame.

It was a shame when he withdrew from playing in Tulsa, not wanting to face the barrage of pointed questions that his battle with the PGA Tour and his dubious decisions warrant. In the aftermath of so much stupidity, Mickelson smartly ducked out of sight. Painful, but prudent. There are really no acceptable answers for Phil the Pariah.

That left the stage open for the impossible – Tiger Woods’ valiant effort to complete on a mangled leg – and the improbable, with a talented but unproven Pereira poised to par the final hole Sunday to take a permanent place in golf history.

But Mito took a baseball swing with his driver, bouncing his tee ball into a creek on the way to a disastrous double bogey, and thrusting Thomas into a playoff with Zalatoris, another young gun on the Tour.

Don’t know if this mattered, but it seems likely. After both players birdied the first extra hole, as Zalatoris tried to match Thomas driving the 17th green, just before he started his swing, in the silence, a siren sounded. Zalatoris didn’t back away and his tee ball nearly finished in a hazard. Thomas birdied again, the upstart parred, and the deal was all but done.

On 18, Thomas hit the perfect drive, the perfect approach, two-putted for par and thanked his lucky stars.

How lucky? He pointed it out immediately. He is surely the first major champ to overcome a dead shank in the final round. One like we hit. Five-iron, dead right off the No. 6 tee on a par-3, 108 yards into a tree. Second shot? Just like us. Off another tree, just seven yards closer, 102 from the pin. Oh, and in a bunker, those traps at Southern Hills that the players griped about all week because the grainy sand made for Okie Roulette.

Then the real JT arrived. A picture-perfect pitching wedge to 18 feet, followed by a laser-guided putt to the cup, for the best bogey he’ll ever make. At the 11th, he was four shots off Pereira’s pace, and 64 feet away from a birdie. He waved his magic wand, drained the putt and dropped the gloves for a fight past the finish.

The chump who shanked on the sixth? Same guy. My kind of champ. Shank you very much.


Do it for the love of the game

I’ve gotta warn you, I’m not sure I can crank out a quality column now. The atmosphere is not very good.

I don’t need people cheering when I write. It helps if there have been people cheering something before I write, or at least, people cheering something that inspires me to write.

There’s the word, well, just a word cousin, actually. Inspiration.

How can I do this well without any?

This is why I love youth sports. Give me your little league ballgames. There’s no shortage of motivation there.

The kids are there to have fun. The families and friends are there to see them have fun.

Games are fun. So let’s play. Simple, right?

That’s why, after playing all sorts of sports when I was a kid – organized, and not — and after writing and talking about them since, I have never, ever, ever gotten my brain to accept, never have gotten my heart to grasp, never have gotten my soul to understand, why athletes in high school, in college and in the pros “just couldn’t get up for the game.”

Especially after we’ve just come through a pandemic, with cancellations and then restrictions stopping and then adjusting if, and how, games got played, I can’t swallow that one.

Yet I hear players trying to explain subpar performances by saying the game was at a less-than-sparkling facility, or there weren’t many fans there, or it was a long trip … we’ve all heard the excuses.

At the level where I’ve spent most of my career, college football teams play 11 or 12 regular-season games each fall. In basketball, it’s roughly 30. Baseball and softball, the count rises to 50-60. Tennis teams are lining up for 20-25 matches and some individual tournaments in the fall. Soccer, volleyball, track and field … we can go on.

Those numbers pale in comparison to the time invested, in days, in hours, at times before dawn and after dark, preparing for those opportunities to compete.

Yes, it can turn into a grind. There is more to daily life than practice and preparation for the seasons, for the games. Warning to the athletes, prep all the way to pro: nobody plays forever. Only the elite keep playing for long. Only the lucky ones get to play at all. It is not a birthright. If often ends unexpectedly.

Sometimes, the victory is in the grind – in the ability to go out and set aside whatever burdens and distractions exist, to focus on doing all that can be done for teammates and coaches, to find the very best you can summon on that date and at that time.

Not allowing surroundings or situations to suck away the energy and excellence within.

Play the game, young athlete, like you did when you were playing in your neighbor’s front yard, or out on the street, or on a dirt court, or on the practice range.

When you might play for hours, or just shoot hoops by yourself until you missed supper.

For the fun of it.

Because when you can’t “get up” for the game, that’s when you’re cheating it, wasting your time, and everybody else’s. I’m pretty sure you’re better than that.


Mocks no more, it’s Draft Day, not a moment too soon

News flash — the 2022 NFL Draft begins tonight.

Which means, I suppose, the first Mock Draft for 2023 will pop out next week. Seriously.

If you’re somebody who is immersed in the Mock World, this real draft is the realization of football prophecy. What a weekend! All these months of speculation play out and we see if Mel Kiper Jr.’s latest mock draft had more on the money picks than Todd McShay or Daniel Jeremiah or … Billy Bob Bivens from Biloxi.

I think he has one. There is no shortage. Looking at the ole w-w-w, there are even sites that track how “draft analysts” have performed over the last few years to give observers (bettors, right?) guidance on who’s the boss.

There were well over 100 listed, and graded, over the past five years on one site. Somewhere near 30th place, I noticed one name I recognized as a somewhat prominent NFL analyst – none of those mentioned above, except perhaps Billy Bob from Biloxi, cracked the top 100. This list could’ve been an off-Broadway collection. I did not scan it long enough to know.

It’s astounding that real people have real time to devour dozens of mocks and their reshuffles, and I am happy for you people who do. No shame in that; glory to you and your insight on the tight end from Northern Idaho State who could be a great third-day sleeper.

Is my pal Mel (fact! More in a sec) and his 2.0 Mock graded against the real results, or is it just his final version? Or is his 2.0 compared to McShay’s 2.0 and all the rest, and their 3.0’s, and … I’d rather revisit my 12th grade trig class. Same level of understanding. I got a B. It was my favorite graduation gift.

More on Mel: 40 years ago, I was just out of college and working at UL Lafayette in the sports information office. He was the same age, and had already begun analyzing prospects as a teenager and sent his breakdowns to the GM of his hometown team, the Baltimore Colts. Ernie Accorsi was impressed enough to suggest Mel sell his reports to fans (no small feat before the internet) and eventually offered Kiper a job in the Colts organization – just before they bolted for Indianapolis, which took that option off Mel’s board.

Kiper called to check on a Cajuns’ prospect. A few months later, I noticed a story in a Football Gazette newsletter explaining why he insisted on being called Mel Kiper Jr., to honor his dad. Next time he called, I told him I enjoyed it. More than a decade before Al Gore invented the internet, Mel had never seen the story. I mailed the clipping (remember those?) and we were BOYS.

When we spoke through the years, either with him calling to gather info or me calling to glean insight on the draft potential for a Northwestern State player, his photographic memory was everything you’ve seen on air, and more. He could instantly narrate the draft bio and outlook for the young man that was desperate to hear an objective take on his prospects. He was blunt – passionate, charming, but he did not put icing on the cupcake. The players might cringe at what he said, but they appreciated it.

So I like Mel Kiper Jr. He is the John Glenn of the Mock Draft industry. I admire him.

But tonight will be the first time I’ll watch his analysis of the 2022 NFL Draft. I guess starting next week, ESPN will be treating us to coverage of drone racing and cornhole competitions.

Those, like Mock Drafts, have their place. Just not on my TV or computer screen.


SPOTLIGHT: Sayonara Southland? Conference reconsidering its brand

CHANGING LABELS?:  The Northwestern State Lady Demons won the 2021 regular-season and tournament Southland Conference soccer titles. They may defend their crown in a rebranded league, one with a new logo and perhaps a new name.

By DOUG IRELAND, Journal Sports

What’s in a name? Southland Conference athletic directors discussed that this morning, probably before you read this.

They were getting updated, in a 7 a.m. Zoom call, by new Southland commissioner Chris Grant and his staff, discussing a rebranding initiative announced April 11 after months of consideration.

The conference’s statement a couple of weeks ago said the rebranding will include “a new name for the conference and its sub-brands and properties” and a “new logo that is uniting and inspirational.”

Not so fast, said the AD who has emerged as the league’s most influential athletic leader.

McNeese AD Heath Schroyer told The Journal Monday afternoon that the name, at least, might remain the same.

Troika Media Group is managing the process. TMG (not TMZ) has been involved in branding Apple, Hulu, UFC, Peloton, CNN, HBO, ESPN, Yahoo, Netflix and Coca-Cola, and collegiate-sport-specifically, the four Power 5 conference TV networks (SEC, ACC, Big Ten and Pac-12) along with ESPN College Football, ESPN College Basketball and CBS Sports.

Northwestern’s new AD, Kevin Bostian, is approaching his three-month anniversary May 7 and admittedly is not up to speed on the rebrand. After this morning’s call, which will include other topics as well, he expects to have a much better understanding.

“We are excited for the direction the conference is taking,” he said. “We will follow the conference’s lead and support the administration in the steps it plans to take.”

Bostian and the other ADs met individually with TMG during the Southland’s basketball tournaments in early March in Katy, Texas. Bostian shared his outside perspective as a newcomer to the league, having noted its status from afar, in the eastern time zone, most recently at UNC-Greensboro.

Many longtime fans, veteran administrators and coaches have posed a simple question as the league nears its 60th anniversary in 2024.

What is wrong with sticking with “Southland Conference?”

“It’s a great question. All of us as AD’s have actually pondered that,” said Schroyer. “We have to take a step back and look at it. We want to be aggressive as a league, we want to be proactive in recruiting members, but we also want to be strategic in everything we do. If a rebranding takes place, what does that look like, and how does that help us? I think those are all questions that are still on the board.”

It’s a process of exploring a new brand, he said, not necessarily creating an entirely new one with only one newcomer in the fold at this stage (Texas A&M-Commerce joins July 1, moving up from Division II).

The widespread expectation is whatever is decided, it will be unveiled in July at the Southland Football Media Day in Lake Charles. But Northwestern is among league members who need a new logo sooner – a new turf playing surface is being installed this summer at Turpin Stadium for NSU football, and a new court is going in at Prather Coliseum, which houses volleyball and basketball.  Those facilities need to be ready in late July for preseason workouts.

Timelines were doubtlessly a focal point of discussion during this morning’s call.

“I’m not sure exactly where it’s at (as of Monday afternoon),” said Schroyer. “It’s still in discussion and there’s a lot of things being floated around, but I don’t think we’re close to having a definitive answer on that.”


Please come to Boston, for the springtime, and a race

You can’t imagine actually playing in the Super Bowl, the NBA Finals, the World Series, or the Masters.

It’s unthinkable to believe you could really compete in the Daytona 500, or at Indy, or ride a thoroughbred in the Kentucky Derby.

Those are NOT public access, available-to-enter events. The American sports calendar slows to a crawl for them, along with bowl games, the BCS National Championship, the Final Four, and the U.S. Opens in golf and tennis.

The gateway to those Opens is ever-so-slightly accessible, assuming your game is elite and you can survive a series of sectional qualifying tournaments. A handful of “normal” people make it all the way through.

The Boston Marathon stands alone. Yes, there are qualifying standards, and yes, you’ve got to be a pretty strong distance runner to make it into the field. But THOUSANDS do it every April, and they did again Monday. Among the estimated 31,000 entrants, all are serious runners, but they are nearly all recreational athletes, running for the sheer joy of it.

They are convinced running 26 miles, 385 yards is fabulous. About a half-million people line the race route, cheering them on.

Those runners are people who shop for their shoes in the same stores you visit. They are probably a bit pickier about what they buy.

Monday, probably a half-dozen or so of your neighbors from Caddo and Bossier Parishes were there in Beantown, running the race of their dreams.

They all felt the same immense pride at reaching the qualifying standard in their age groups, then at being in a huge pack at the start (all 31,000 don’t start at once!), at conquering fabled Heartbreak Hill, and at crossing the finish line on Boylston Street in front of the Boston Public Library. Those joys are shared by the world’s best and the rest, thousands who come from not only across America, but from around the world for this race, this unique experience.

It is unfathomable to me. I sit here typing and spooning away at a DQ Blizzard. But as I was reading Teddy Allen’s Spotlight on young Hayden Slack’s first Boston Marathon, I thought of Frank Bright, who ran his 16th Monday.

The 78-year-old retired Shreveport attorney took just over five hours to finish. He was 25th in his division, 13,447th among all male runners and 23,084th overall. He finished – again. He finished, a couple of years after a heart attack that he didn’t know he’d had until a checkup sometime afterward. Monday was his second Boston Marathon since he added three stents to his inventory.

Frank Bright took up running – a mile, not 26 of them – as a senior at Fair Park High School, and won the 1961 state championship four months later. He ran his first marathon at age 35, and now has over 60 under his belt.

I also thought of Mindy Stokes. She could have died there, in 2013, near the finish line, cheering for Victoria Willis, her former coaching pal on the Northwestern State Lady Demons basketball staff. Victoria crossed 10 minutes before the bomb exploded.

“I was 20 yards from the bombing site. God was looking out for me. Had Victoria stopped and walked, and a lot of them do, or had she been slower … “ she said.

When the evil erupted, Victoria and Mindy were two blocks away. They heard the blast.

Her husband, Dr. Marc Stokes, went to Boston a year later, taking his son Connor to a Red Sox game. He had to see where Mindy was standing. He had to give thanks for what didn’t turn his life upside down.

Both women have been back since, Victoria running, Mindy supporting.

“I didn’t go to the race at all. I met her after. I was hesitant to be in the crowd. I hate that it affected me that way, but it definitely did,” she said. “Victoria ran, and she did well, and she’s done it another time. Victoria is brave for running again. But she loves to run.”

That passion. It has hold of Frank Bright and his very, very small group of peers. It tugs at Victoria Willis and the others who ran in 2013. It is undeniable, and for many, unquenchable.

Whether on Heartbreak Hill, or along Clyde Fant Parkway, when they are running, they are beyond reason. They are obsessed. They are enthralled.

The fortunate few get to be in Boston, on a mid-April Monday, like Frank Bright, Victoria Willis, Hayden Slack, and maybe somebody down your street, someone you saw at the grocery store.

That is what sets the Boston Marathon apart.


SPOTLIGHT: Could NCAA’s APR be DOA?

ON THE MOVE: Senior-to-be point guard Brian White is reportedly not returning to Northwestern State’s basketball team.

By DOUG IRELAND, Journal Sports

Grambling’s just-hired volleyball coach, Chelsey Lucas, reportedly cut her entire team to look for better players.

New basketball coaches at Louisiana Tech, LSU and Northwestern State have varying degrees of roster management issues.

At Tech, the focal situation centers on the big man, Kenneth Lofton Jr., the Bulldogs’ sensational sophomore. Before Eric Konkol took the head coaching post at Tulsa, Lofton understandably stated his intention to explore entering the NBA Draft. Last week, Lofton also entered the NCAA’s transfer portal, increasing chances that he will be movin’ on up one way, or another, despite being recruited to Ruston by new Tech coach Talvin Hester, an assistant at the time of Lofton’s signing.

After the firing of Will Wade, the LSU basketball roster emptied. All scholarship players entered the transfer portal, or declared for the NBA Draft. Several Murray State Racers have followed their head coach, Matt McMahon, to Baton Rouge, along with NSU’s freshman star center, Captain Shreve product Kendal Coleman.

The new Demons’ head coach, Corey Gipson, has seen other key figures from last year’s NSU squad exit Prather Coliseum. Coleman was gone before Gipson arrived, but as of today, five of Northwestern’s top six scorers last year (two were seniors) reportedly won’t be back, notably underclassmen Carvell Teasett (12.9 points per game) and senior-to-be Brian White (5.9 points), the starting guards.

These are some, not all, of local cases-in-point illustrating the transfer portal is college sports’ version of the DFW Airport, with constant incoming and outgoing traffic.

Fluid rosters in coaching transitions are nothing new, but widespread exits had been curtailed significantly after the NCAA instituted academic reform with the arrival of the Academic Progress Rate in 2004. APR is a gauge of how schools do advancing student-athletes toward graduation. There have been penalties, including bans from postseason play and limits on scholarships and practices, for programs that fall below Division I-wide standards by not retaining their players.

Due to pandemic impact, the NCAA quietly suspended APR penalties a couple years ago. A restart was expected next year but has been delayed for at least another year, if not forever, as the transformative impact of the portal, and other problematic issues, soaks in.

The transfer portal has radically altered the landscape. No matter what the sport, Division I coaches have to constantly monitor their own roster, understanding the status of each player, and must be alert to players looking for a new home who might be good additions. The conventional recruiting paradigm has been blown up. With that, it’s possible, even perhaps likely, that the APR, the NCAA’s anchor for academic emphasis, could join fax machines and Walkmans in the obsolete file.

“You’re getting to the point where it’s unknown if penalties will be reassessed,” said Dustin Eubanks, associate athletic director at Northwestern State, who has handled NCAA compliance for 22 years. “We have to look at it as if they will be, but can I tell you they will? It’s like so much with the NCAA now; the word that is used is uncertainty.”

Does that mean the NCAA’s heavily-marketed focus on academics is in the way of its newfound commitment to free enterprise by student-athletes?

“There are too many issues like the portal that are problematic at this stage,” said Eubanks. “How does the NCAA reconsider its enforcement of academics? I don’t think they know right now.”

If these academic standards do resume, will they matter? A growing number of ambitious coaches on the outside of dream jobs, but looking up, are putting in all their chips toward rapid success to quickly climb toward multi-million dollar contracts. What’s left behind when they jump? Not their problem.

“There are some that don’t focus on APR as much as the way it used to be,” said Eubanks. “Coaches will tell you, we’re paid to win. If we don’t win, we’re out. Talking to colleagues at other places, I think discounting or altogether disregarding APR is more prevalent than you’d want, if you believe the end goal for college athletes is graduation.”

Do academics really matter in college sports? Rumors of the elite power programs considering a super division, something that could replicate minor league sports with a modicum of academics, are on the radar.

With so many unknowns, the notion that graduation is considered as big a win as championship trophies is very much in doubt.

Photo by CHRIS REICH, Northwestern State


Sorting through storylines, wondering what’s next

Logic finally prevailed in the Southland Conference.

Meanwhile, the incomprehensible has suddenly become the new order in high school sports.

College team rosters are best maintained on an Etch-A-Sketch.

Those are among the sports storylines of significance that we’re dealing with in The Year of Lawdy, Lawdy 2022.

We can all agree Will Smith may have once given us a brilliant portrayal of Muhammed Ali, but he gave Chris Rock a lick more suitable from a star in the WWE.

Then the Academy gave him a ban that may last longer than Will Wade’s banishment from college basketball. It was not remotely a damned strong slap.

Some things make so much sense, they actually happen. Exhibit A: Lamar has quickly backtracked, realizing that charting its course into the three time zones of the Western Athletic Conference was just plain stupid and too durned expensive. Friday, Lamar announced its return to the Southland in 2023-24, kissing and making up much faster than Bennifer did.

Can Stephen F. Austin’s path to redemption be equally brief? Despite enrollment issues (fairly common among colleges nowadays) and suddenly shaky finances, don’t expect a quick retreat to familiar Southland territory by the ever-egocentric Lumberjacks. Last thing SFA will do sooner than later is re-up with the Southland, no matter how prudent it is.

They are still locked in a semi-permanent wince from getting kicked to the curb by their neighbors and arch-rivals, the Sam Houston State Bearkats, who spent only slightly more time in the WAC than Tom Brady’s retirement before leaping to a bigger, more pricey locale, Conference USA alongside Louisiana Tech.

Demons can tell Bulldogs that Huntsville ain’t Hattiesburg, and the Bearkats will seem like Jersey Housewives, hoping to fit into a social circle that don’t suit them much.

More things make no sense, but they’re happening anyway.

Prepare to cringe: beg your pardon as I bring up the LHSAA’s begrudging embrace of NIL.

Legally, Eddie Bonine and the state’s principals were boxed in. Could’ve put up a stand, could’ve spent a bunch on attorneys, couldn’t have won the argument – in a courthouse.

Kids are given grown-up opportunities, and there are far too many adults with self-serving agendas willing to capitalize. Unfortunately, the law is on the side of individual freedoms, generally a good thing (even Kentwood’s Britney Spears finally got freed up nearing 40!) but when it comes to those too young to serve in our military or cast a vote in a public election, they are flying blind or close to it at this stage of their lives.

So now Get Gordon and the like are beginning to trade on the identities of high school girls and boys, appearing to do nice things like congratulating a sensational young scholar-athlete when we all quickly see through to their end game: presenting a top-dollar NIL offer to encourage a college commitment, dare we suggest to area code 225?

Kim Mulkey doesn’t need that “help.” But she can do nothing to stop it. And the kids and their parents and their high school coaches and teammates, none who asked for this, are confronted with issues that nobody before has had to consider.

Combine NIL with Transfer Portal and your desire to read any further roughly equals Ed Orgeron’s appetite for opera. While he’s no doubt got Wayne Toups and not Pavarotti on his iPod, like most of us, Coach O hates those diabolical new arrivals to the college scene with a passion. Can team sports values survive the age of individualism?

I’d rather contemplate my taxes. On April 12, I’d better. Not gonna waste time considering the reality that most SEC quarterbacks need CPA teams about now, and at three times their age, I’m suited for the latest edition of TurboTax.