The Demons added three tight ends and three receivers, along with a couple of talented running backs, making the signing class loaded with reinforcing a record-setting offense that will be triggered by the 2013 Southland Conference Newcomer of the Year, quarterback Zach Adkins, next fall.
"We had some big shoes to fill in the offensive line, and I think we got that accomplished today with seven coming in, very quality young men. That was really our main focus. We had to find a few receivers, a couple of running backs, and we were able to do that," said Thomas. "The pieces fit well together."
NSU added four defensive linemen, three linebackers, and two defensive backs, along with a deep snapper, in the 2014 signing class.
"Defensively, our priorities were to create more depth and competition at linebacker and safety, and we've done that," said Thomas. "We have had a plan for this class since last spring, and it came together very well."
At least 15 of the 25 signees had grade point averages of 3.0 or better, boding well for NSU, said Thomas. Two offensive linemen were Texas All-State choir members: Clay Wiley from Kilgore, and Andrew Bluiett of Beaumont-West Brook.
"In our program, it's student-athlete first, with the emphasis on student. Our staff did a great job evaluating our prospects and honing in on the best fits," he said. "From back in the spring, we probably went through 2,000 kids and got it down to about two dozen new Demons. There are quite a few in this class with GPA's well over 3.0; it's a group of good quality young men who are good football players.
"We're very excited about getting these guys on campus, because they'll be involved in campus other than just in football. It's a blessing we were able to get this caliber of young people."
Thomas looks for immediate contributions from the four junior college transfers and perhaps from several true freshmen, with receiver Cameron Lazare of Baton Rouge-Woodlawn and defensive tackle Joshua Roberts of Hempstead, Texas, as prime candidates to get on the field fast. One of the memorable images from the highlight videos shown at the Signing Day Luncheon in Prather Coliseum Wednesday as the sight of the 6-foot-4, 358-pound Bluiett running the anchor leg on a 4x400 meter relay team, and outsprinting a competitor to the finish line.
The class also includes Louisiana's Class 4A Offensive Outstanding Player, running back Ron Green, who scored 32 touchdowns and ran for over 2,000 yards for unbeaten state champion East Jefferson. Other players coming from state championship teams: the Texas offensive linemen tandem of Timmis Bonner III and Korliss Johnson, who helped Cedar Hill High win the state Class 5A Division II crown, and Denton, Texas-John H. Guyer offensive lineman Jerod Fritsch. Mesa Community College linebacker Taylor Hansen was part of two straight unbeaten state championship teams at Bingham (Utah) High.
"You're looking at the long haul, four or five years, and they'll improve as they go along. You obviously have some guys who you look to for immediate help in different positions, which is important to the success of the team in this upcoming season, to fit the right pieces in the puzzle," said Thomas. "We feel really good about the short term and the long haul with this class."
The close-nit, friendly, sense of community on campus and in Natchitoches is a major asset for the Demons' recruiting, said Thomas.
"It's a family here, and these young men get that feeling when they come in on visits. That works in our favor because of the caliber of the players we recruit, who they are and what they're about," he said. "They see the way our family functions, the football family, the Northwestern family, the Natchitoches family, and it's all good."
Folding in this class on top of the first group Thomas and staff signed last year, he believes the foundation is in place to continue the momentum established by the strong finish to the 2013 season, with wins in three of the last four games to secure the best record for the Demons since 2008, a 6-6 finish that included a win over nationally-ranked Central Arkansas and recapturing Chief Caddo from rival Stephen F. Austin.
More success should follow thanks in part to the 2014 class, he said.
"When you look at it, from top to bottom, it is a functional class. We'll watch these guys come in and grow to where we want to take the program, to a championship level. We're just scratching the tip of the iceberg, so to speak, with what we want to get done," said Thomas. "With our recruiting class last year we took the first step and this is another very strong step in the right direction. We had good players here when we arrived, and now we're adding more to the mix."