NATCHITOCHES — National media coverage followed Thursday afternoon’s surprising announcement by Northwestern State president Dr. Marcus Jones that the university has cancelled the rest of its football season due to the recent shooting death of junior safety Ronnie Caldwell, with Jones citing concerns for the mental health and well-being of its student-athletes as the primary reason for the decision.
Many of the country’s primary news and sports news platforms carried coverage of the decision, which generated extensive social media traffic and commentary. NSU will not play its final four games in an 11-game schedule. It already cancelled an Oct. 14 game just two days after the shooting.
Caldwell, a junior safety from Cedar Park, Texas, in the Austin metroplex, played in 11 games last year, starting 10, but had not played this season due to a foot injury. He traveled with the team in a student coaching capacity, helping other defensive backs with their technique and schemes, and working with coaching staff members in the press box during games. He was hoping to play in the final month of the season.
His death, in an Oct. 12 early morning shooting where he lived at the Quad Apartment Complex across from campus, remains under investigation by the Natchitoches Police Department. Two men, one a former NSU teammate and the other a 27-year-old who was not an NSU student but was one of Caldwell’s roommates, have been arrested in connection with the case on drugs and weapons charges. No charges relating directly to Caldwell’s death have been public as of late Thursday.
Northwestern cancelled its Oct. 14 game at Nicholls, but resumed its schedule a week ago (Oct. 19) at home in an emotionally-charged game against Southeastern, briefly leading but dropping a 37-20 decision. Players not in uniform and team personnel wore black No. 23 T-shirts with Caldwell’s name, paying tribute to the business administration major who made the Southland Conference Commissioner’s Honor Roll in 2022 for carrying at least a 3.0 grade point average during the season. This summer, Caldwell helped coach a local youth league team of 9-year-old boys.
Many players, coaches and team personnel traveled to Austin Saturday to attend Caldwell’s funeral, where head coach Brad Laird spoke.
“Ronnie was a beloved member of our community, and we miss him dearly,” said Jones. “While our instinct was to return to the field of play following his death, we’ve since learned that the hurt on our team was too deep. Now it is in the best interest of our players, coaches, and staff to pause and to take this time to mourn, to heal, and to support Ronnie’s family.”
The school also announced Thursday the resignation of Laird, who was in his sixth season as coach after nine years at his alma mater as an assistant. Laird was a star quarterback for the Demons from 1991-96, and still holds the NSU career passing record. He is in the Louisiana High School Sports Hall of Fame for his achievements at Ruston High School, where he was the quarterback on the Bearcats’ unbeaten 1990 state championship team which earned a national No. 1 ranking from USA Today.
“Due to the loss of Ronnie and the emotional burden it has caused me, I don’t feel I can give my all to these players or this program,” Laird said. “Any coach will tell you that their players become like family, so the loss of Ronnie was like losing a son. I love this program and this university and I know it will persevere and move forward with the competitive spirit that is at the core of our DNA.”
“We appreciate Coach Laird’s long-term investment in Northwestern State football. From his undergraduate time as a record-setting quarterback to his year spent overseeing the university’s alumni office to coaching, he has been a vital member of the team,” said Kevin Bostian, NSU’s athletic director. “While we are disappointed not to be able to finish the season, we are confident that better days lie ahead for Northwestern State football.”
Assistant head coach and defensive coordinator, Weston Glaser, will step in as interim head coach while the athletic department begins an immediate search for its next head coach. However, the team will not practice and it is unclear if any team activities will be held for the rest of the year. Counseling and other services are being made available to team members and others impacted, officials said.
A national search for a new head coach is already underway, officials said. Jones said there will be a 2024 season for NSU football.
“I want to thank our team, family, friends and the whole Northwestern State community for your understanding of this difficult decision,” Jones said. “We appreciate your support during this challenging time.”
The university’s press release did not immediately address considerations related to the Nov. 3-4 homecoming weekend, which was to culminate with an afternoon football game.
The decision also impacts McNeese State’s homecoming this weekend. NSU was scheduled to play at McNeese Saturday night.
“This is very disappointing for all of us,” said McNeese director of athletics Heath Schroyer, speaking at an afternoon press conference in Lake Charles. “I feel for the Northwestern State players, coaches and administrators for what they are going through. I’m also disappointed for our fans. I am with them in wanting to see the game.”
Schroyer said if the decision had been made earlier this week, he would have searched nationwide to find an opponent for Saturday. There was no indication before Thursday, McNeese officials said.
McNeese will stage most other homecoming activities this weekend, and introduce its homecoming court at halftime of its final home game next month.