February’s National Signing Day still has its own special appeal

There’s something for everybody on National Signing Day (Traditional).

Really. For those into high school and/or college football, it’s like a holiday, except everybody 12th grade and under does GO to school, and to class. And gets homework.

It’s huge for fax machines. Otherwise a space taker for 364 days, the fax still gets a few adoring glances on NSD. There are still some technologically challenged coaches (more than a few of them, actually) who help their players maneuver through the actual pages of scholarship documents, but can’t for the sake of seconds at supper figure out how to scan and e-mail them. No shame in that; the fax stands ready, like the push lawnmower.

NSD (Traditional) is not as big for team caps as it was. NSD (Early) has dominated the team cap announcement, when A-List Prospect has a collection of hats with school logos of his final choices, and toys with everyone in the room and elsewhere before pulling on the one he’s gonna make part of his new wardrobe. Most of the high-profile signees do their deals in December (NSD Early).

But that doesn’t dim Traditional for unabashed exhilaration.

Traditional is every bit as solid as ever in that department. EVERYBODY is happy. Family gathers, often dressed to the nines. High school coaches are stoked. They, teachers, and administrators are proud to see Prospect is stepping on a path to higher education. They’ve all been through college and they know what a life-changer it is. Meanwhile, college coaches are happy their months of recruiting are rewarded, they are excited about Prospect getting on campus and getting in the offseason program, and boosters cannot help but picture EVERY signee stepping quickly into the starting lineup and stacking up Ws.

(With the NIL money now flowing around the high-rent campuses like a flooded Red River, Prospect also will soon, if not immediately, need to fill out his W9 and consider a CPA. It is, after all, bidness.)

Traditional also is relief. Those who didn’t get to do NSD (Early) have had several weeks to find their path forward. Some already knew it, some took it down to the wire. Some discovered the fit wasn’t there at the Snazzy Conference level and when reality settled in, just like when Favorite Girlfriend kicked Prospect to the curb, well, there were other really nice girls around and one had PO-tential. All the good food ain’t served at five-star, pricey restaurants, either. So, Traditional is also satisfaction.

It’s accomplishment. Scholarships of ANY kind are not birthrights. They’re earned, with years of commitment, toughness, resilience, and yes, God-given talent. From the youth league coach to the junior high teacher to the high school counselor, and for Prospect’s people sitting around the dinner table, this was a day of celebration, and rightfully so. They helped make it happen.

It’s transition. High school days are not done, but this is the first big step away from everything Prospect has known for 17 or so years. Might be exciting, but at some point it’s probably daunting. That support base almost always shrinks once you’re out of sight. Gotta make better choices than ever before, because the people who know you best won’t be close by as sounding boards.

But all that uncertainty is outweighed by the assurance that NSD (Traditional, or Early) provides. And that feels Tony the Tiger GRRREAT!

Last thing. BTW, this year NSD (Traditional) was extra wonderful, with it being Women in Sport Day, and Groundhog Day. Six more weeks of volleyball?

Four involved locals confident in outcome of NSU AD search

(Left to right) Mike Wilburn, John Manno and Kenny Knotts joined Terry Moore (not shown) as Shreveport-Bossier residents involved in the selection of their alma mater’s new athletic director last week

By DOUG IRELAND, Journal Sports

A week ago, Northwestern State supporters were digesting the news that the replacement for longtime Demons athletics director Greg Burke was somebody nobody in the 318 area code knew.

How’d that happen?

It was a product of a two-month process led, for the first time at Northwestern, by an outside search firm. To say Kyle Bowlsby of Bowlsby Sports Advisors was discreet during those eight weeks is more than understatement.

The curtain opened, and 43-year-old North Carolina State graduate Kevin Bostian made his first impression, introduced last Thursday on campus before quickly heading home to Greensboro, N.C. until he steps into his new office Feb. 7.

Among the 10-person advisory committee that pared dozens of applicants down to three finalists: four Shreveport-Bossier men confident the Demons have found the ideal candidate.

Ex-Demon baseballer Kenny Knotts is an insurance consultant. John A. Manno Jr. is a retired local businessman. Terry Moore, a Haughton native and Captain Shreve graduate whose brother Robert started at safety 30-plus years ago for NSU, then the Atlanta Falcons, is a financial advisor. Vietnam veteran and former NSU infielder Mike Wilburn is an investment advisor.

They are as Demon as it gets. When their work began after Thanksgiving, they liked the idea of being involved in a new approach.

“I was really proud of the university going to a nationwide search process, and I was really happy that on the committee were business people, former athletes, and representatives of the faculty and student body as well,” said Moore. “Everyone brought something to the table. From a leadership standpoint, you can’t get any better than John Manno, a level-headed guy who loves Northwestern and would ask relevant questions.”

The unknown: being guided by an outsider who was learning about NSU on the fly.

“My initial thoughts were this was going to be really fast, and I wasn’t sure it would be handled correctly,” said Manno, who last fall was part of the advisory committee helping hire new president Dr. Marcus Jones. “I was very wrong. The search firm was excellent.

“We damned sure should have done this (process) 15 years ago,” he said, not referring to replacing Burke, but to how NSU has previously hired key athletic personnel.

“Rather than making it so Natchitoches-centric, looking for ties to Northwestern, we enlarged the pool in this process. We needed that so very much, a new approach with a new leader who has great vision,” said Wilburn.

“Kevin is going to build on the legacy that Is in place,” said Moore. “People assume since there’s change, that so much is wrong. No. It’s just time for another person to take the hammer and nails and build on the many strong points in place.”

Bostian was a prime pick by the advisory panel, said Manno, emerging from 25 (chosen by Bowlsby from an initial pool of 80) who were narrowed to 13 by the group, then to five who they interviewed, and three finalists recommended to Jones. That trio visited Natchitoches for final interviews with Jones and other NSU personnel on MLK Day and the next morning. Bostian quickly got the offer while he was in Shreveport last Tuesday, waiting to fly home.

A few days earlier, Bostian had checked out Natchitoches on his own. He flew into Shreveport, drove south, visited downtown and walked the campus by himself, without anyone at NSU aware.

“That made an impression on me. He did that on his own dime,” said Wilburn. “It said a lot about his approach, and his interest in our job.”

“He was the most ready candidate to make this step,” said Knotts, noting Bostian spent three months last fall as interim AD at UNC Greensboro. “He’s sat in that chair, made the final calls, hired coaches, kept the ship steady.”

“We have the right guy,” said Manno.

Why not (nominate) the best?

Opinion by DOUG IRELAND, Journal Staff

Lots of fine folks have contributed money to give away, legally, to top-caliber high school senior football scholar-athletes.

The S.M. McNaughton Chapter of the National Football Foundation has been doing this for over 40 years. The local chapter raises funds with tennis tournaments, auctions and other events, then awards scholarships to the cream of the crop among north Louisiana’s seniors.

One catch: those fine young men have to be nominated by their head coaches. Only 10 nominations have been submitted so far, from eligible football programs in districts 1, 2 and 3 in Louisiana.

When you read that the deadline to apply was last Thursday, don’t be alarmed. It’s been extended to Wednesday, Feb. 2, already a red letter day for senior prep football players. It’s also National Signing Day.

Throw in the excitement of Groundhog Day, and it’s a date impossible to ignore.

Not that the head coaches who haven’t nominated anyone yet are intentionally overlooking this wonderful opportunity for their super seniors.

Although the football season is done, those coaches aren’t. Offseason strength and conditioning programs have begun. All of the coaches are also teachers, with classes to educate and an ever-soaring amount of record-keeping required.

Most importantly, more than ever before, today’s coaches are mentors at least, and in many cases, surrogate parents for young people whose parents are too overwhelmed or sometimes sadly indifferent.

So, Coach, if you haven’t nominated your top senior football player in 2021 for the McNaughton Chapter NFF Scholarship, this second chance is for you, says Toni Goodin, the longtime secretary/backbone of the local chapter.

She can relate. The former Logansport High cheerleader has coordinated the NFF scholarship program for longer than the 2021 seniors have been living. It’s hardly the only cause for Goodin, who among other unpaid pursuits is a vibrant volunteer for the Independence Bowl, along with her mom Peggy Mitchell.

But currently, she’s the CEO honed in on opening the sparkling Shreveport Rehabilitation Hospital. That’s resulted in her delegating the oversight of the scholarship program to another NFF board member. She picked the rookie – me.

It’s a privilege. Just like it is to win one of these NFF scholarships. I’ve been to most of the NFF Scholar-Athlete Awards Banquets this century, watching and listening to the accomplishments of these remarkable young men, seeing their excitement at being recognized for not only being a really good player, but doing a great job throughout their high school years in the classroom, and being involved in community service.

Those are the cornerstone values. Nominees must have earned all-district honors for the 2021 season; have a cumulative GPA of at least 3.2; and have involvement in some extracurricular activity. The application, submitted to SBJSportsLine@gmail.com by the head coach, must include the student-athlete’s academic transcript and any recommendation letters or supporting materials.

Nomination info was e-mailed to local and area head coaches when school reconvened early this month.

Questions? Call or text me at 318-471-2086. It’s all about giving opportunity to deserving young men – and a lifelong memory at East Ridge Country Club on March 24 for the best of the best.

There are role models on the field every fall at every high school. Here’s a chance for your favorite one to sparkle one more time.

Photo: by ROBERT FREDERICK/TimeBoxPhotography.com

It’s a breakout year at NSU for Captain Shreve product Kendal Coleman

By MATT VINES, Journal Sports

NATCHITOCHES – Call him Mr. Double Double.

Northwestern State center Kendal Coleman has seven double doubles in his last eight games and eight overall this season to highlight an impressive second freshman campaign.

Coleman logged a season-high 14 rebounds to go with 12 points in an agonizing 79-74 loss by the Demons (4-14, 0-1 Southland Conference) at Southeastern on Saturday to open SLC play. It was his third double double against a league opponent this season.

With 13 conference games remaining, there appears no reason why the Captain Shreve High product can’t string together an impressive collection. He already ranks him 13th nationally with eight double doubles.

“Kendal has shown a great deal of interest in getting where he needs to be to succeed,” said NSU coach Mike McConathy. “The work ethic he developed over the summer is special, and he’s on a mission to be the best player he can be.

“He’s starting to scratch that surface because he’s matured a lot, and he’s starting to understand the perspective it takes to play at a higher level.”

Coleman will test the league waters again this week Thursday at preseason favorite Nicholls (10-8, 0-1 SLC) and Saturday at UNO (8-8, 1-0 SLC), a team in which Coleman has already posted 20 points and 12 rebounds earlier this month in a non-league meeting.

Already an accomplished jump shooter, Coleman developed around the basket as he’s improved his paint scoring and rebounding.

The 6-foot-8 center looks like he’s been chiseled from the side of a mountain and leads the SLC in rebounding (9.1 rebounds per game) and is fourth in scoring (15.2 points per game).

“I would attribute that to the work I did in the offseason,” said Coleman, who flashed potential in his first freshman season with seven points and rebounds per game before COVID-19 gave him a second freshman season. “All the things I learned from the NSU coaches plus guys back home like Derrick Parker and Carl Harris that I’ve worked out with from a young age – I’ve come a long way.”

An overseas trip this summer also proved formative to Coleman’s development.

He played on an international basketball tour in North Macedonia with Athletes In Action, an organization in which Baylor director of basketball operations Bill Peterson coached as Coleman joined players from Baylor, Texas A&M and Texas State among others.

“That experience taught me to be a leader on and off the court,” said Coleman, a quiet, soft-spoken leader who is trying add a more authoritative voice. “It showed me that I can try to assert my dominance in the paint and be a good role player.”

Coleman’s role within the Northwestern team has been as an offensive focal point, excelling against high-level competition while the Demons played seven teams within the top 100 NET rankings.

He scored a career-high 22 points at Tulsa and has added 20 at SMU, 19 against Oklahoma and double doubles at LSU (16 points, 13 rebounds) and Texas A&M (12 points, 11 rebounds).

Coleman has accomplished that feat with great efficiency, shooting 70 percent against the above opponents and 60 percent for most of the season before recently slipping to 53 percent.

“I think the summer tour was huge for his confidence because it’s an opportunity to go play with higher-level guys and allows you to size yourself up and see where you are,” McConathy said. “If you’re that kind of player, which I think Kendal is, it gives you the drive that’s necessary to be one of those kind of players.”

With the emergence of the transfer portal, that’s also led to a lot of extended hugs in the postgame handshake line for a player whose sole Division I offer was NSU.

But with 350 points and more 300 rebounds already, Coleman could easily become just the third Demon to score 1,500 points and grab 1,000 rebounds, and the first since Billy Reynolds in 1977.


Diving into the search for NSU’s new AD

Opinion By DOUG IRELAND, Journal Sports

Remember what you were doing in August 1996, when Al Gore had just invented the internet? Was your favorite singer even born 25 ½ years ago, when Greg Burke was hired as Northwestern State’s director of athletics?

In a few weeks, Burke will nobly depart that role, becoming a fundraiser for the NSU Foundation, which supports academic endeavors at the university.

Who’s replacing him? That could be settled perhaps as fast as in a week or so, although it may take 3-4 more weeks before the new AD is actually on campus in Natchitoches, moving into the office Burke has been slowly clearing out as he continues to run the department.

Who are the leading candidates? Almost certainly, nobody we know (very well, if at all).

Indications are that Northwestern’s new president, Marcus Jones, is really, truly overseeing a national search. Unlike prominent hires in athletics in the last quarter century, there’s a tight lid on this one. Unlike any previous athletic search at NSU, it’s spearheaded by an outside consultant.

Kyle Bowlsby, whose father Bob is one of the more powerful people in college sports as the commissioner of the Big XII Conference, is nearing his mid-30s as the main man for Bowlsby Sports Advisors, a Dallas-based search firm that’s done work for some blue-blood colleges (Clemson, Cal, Pitt, and the Big Ten’s Northwestern). Also on the client list: Tulane, Army, Rice, the Ivy League, Indiana State, Colorado State, and USA Triathlon.

His work, and discussions with an alumni-based advisory committee appointed by Jones several weeks ago, involved conversations with dozens more NSU stakeholders while Bowlsby searched the collegiate athletic landscape for potential fits with the Demons. But the cards are being held very, very close to his vest.

The field, recently trimmed to a dozen or so, is being quickly whittled down to a handful. Presumably 2-4 will visit Natchitoches in the coming days, which involves making some travel arrangements on short notice, no small feat currently. Jones will rely on feedback from the committee and Bowlsby as he considers who gets the job offer, then it’s all on NSU’s new leader to seal the deal.

The new AD’s most vital task: to help Demon football get better, fast.

Demon coach Brad Laird officially took a quantum leap in that direction Monday as NSU announced hires of new coordinators with impressive credentials at the FCS level. Running the Demons’ offense will be Cody Crill, who has been the OC at Incarnate Word in the last four seasons as the Cardinals have lit up scoreboards and made two playoff appearances. Directing the defense: Weston Glaser, DC in the last three seasons for the Campbell (N.C.) Camels, who stacked up some impressive NCAA statistical rankings.

Northwestern’s players will run through a wall for their head coach. Getting them to run where the new coordinators want them to go on the field ought to produce improved results for NSU’s 2022 team.

Giving those coaches and the Demon football program resources it desperately needs is Job One for the next AD, and his, or her, boss. Improved financial support is a big part of the puzzle, but not the sole solution. In less than a decade, Nicholls, Southeastern and UL Lafayette have gone from cellar-dwellers to championship winners, and their university brands have soared. How’d that happen?

It wasn’t simply cranking up the cash flow. It was paradigm shifts in how leadership, both on campus and in the community, advantaged those football programs.

That’s what the competition has done. That’s what Northwestern desperately needs. Jones, unlike his recent predecessors, wasn’t deeply engaged with athletics, but he has shrewdly recognized the need to get up to speed and he’s worked extensively at it since taking over as the heir apparent in July. He’s watched, he’s listened, and he’s sought outside help, banking on Bowlsby, who he met at a conference in New Orleans this fall.

Can the new year be the beginning of a big bounce-back by Demon football, and NSU Athletics? Last time a new president (Dr. Randy Webb) hired a new AD (Burke), Bill Clinton was campaigning a second term in the White House. Unrelated to the man from Hope, hope abounded in Demonland.

Things soon began to percolate. NSU Athletics has never been better than it was in the ensuring decade. Northwestern supporters relished Southland Conference championships and NCAA postseason appearances in football, both basketball programs, baseball, softball, track and field, and soccer.

Anything seemed possible. To rekindle that feeling, the next AD must curtail understandable pessimism, overcome reluctance to embrace systemic change, and harness potential with new approaches, supported by NSU’s new president.

That’s all. Anything less, and not even a magic wand will help.

 Photo: CHRIS REICH, Northwestern State


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