While McNeese State commemorated homecoming Saturday without its scheduled home football game against longtime rival Northwestern State, more shock waves rolled away from Thursday’s decision to cancel the Demons’ final four games this fall.
Demons’ starting quarterback Tyler Vander Waal took issue with the decision and its explanation in a heavily-viewed Saturday social media post, prompting a response from the NSU athletic department.
NSU president Dr. Marcus Jones issued a statement Thursday halting the season in the wake of the shooting death Oct. 12 of junior safety and business administration major Ronnie Caldwell Jr.
Jones said the cancellation was because of Caldwell’s death and cited “the mental health and well-being of its student-athletes as the primary reason.” NSU cancelled its Oct. 14 game at Nicholls, but played Oct. 19 at home against Southeastern with a series of tributes to Caldwell during the evening.
Since then, Jones said in Thursday’s announcement NSU officials “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.”
Jones also announced the resignation of head coach Brad Laird. In subsequent communication, Jones affirmed NSU had begun a search for a new coach and would play football in 2024.
Friday, Caldwell’s parents and their attorneys held a press conference in Houston to announce plans to sue the university, Laird and the Quad Apartment Complex, and perhaps others, for contributing to their son’s killing. Laird had spoken at Caldwell’s funeral the previous Friday in Austin, Texas, an event attended by dozens of teammates and football-related staff members using two full-sized buses and a mini-bus.
Saturday, Vander Waal shared his contention that Jones and athletics director Kevin Bostian “have failed the players immensely” and called the decision “a cop out.”
Vander Waal, who was playing his final season of eligibility at NSU after arriving in the transfer portal in January from Idaho State, said in a statement on X (formerly Twitter) that the move was “never about Ronnie. They used his unfortunate passing as a cop out….
“Most of if not all of the players in that locker room wanted to play” the rest of the season, he said, and he later expanded on his perspective in an interview on the “Billy West Live” podcast distributed to readers of the Shreveport-Bossier Journal and Natchitoches Parish Journal.
He noted that while the remaining games were cancelled, the players have been told that offseason training to prepare for next season will begin Monday.
Another NSU player, sophomore kicker Brett Money, said in a social media post that he was “frustrated with how our season ended but I know God is in control! I love this team and appreciate the lifelong friendship we will have. I know we have each other’s backs.”
The NSU athletic department issued a response — apparently to Vander Waal’s eye-opening post that drew nearly 250,000 views by midnight Saturday and attracted national media attention — releasing it Saturday afternoon to some media outlets.
“We understand and respect the feelings of our players. They are fierce competitors and no doubt some wanted to get back on the field of play. At the end of the day we had to take the health and welfare of players and coaches into consideration when making this difficult decision. While not easy, we are confident we made the right call.”
Meanwhile, no additional progress has been reported by the Natchitoches Police Department in its investigation of the shooting. Law enforcement personnel indicated the probe is deliberate and more arrests are expected, but may not be imminent.
Two men have been arrested related to the investigation, but neither has been charged with any capital offense for the shooting. Both a 27-year-old non-NSU student, John McIntosh, who was one of three roommates of Caldwell’s at the Quad, and former NSU teammate Maurice Campbell were charged with possession of guns and drugs, and Campbell drew an additional obstruction of justice charge.