Despite being the new kid on the Southland Conference’s coaching block, don’t expect Northwestern State’s Jay Thomas to have trouble getting used to the league.
The 52-year-old, a Baker High School graduate, returns to the sidelines as a head coach for the first time since 2009, when he was released after a six-year stint at in-state rival Nicholls State.
For the following two years, Thomas worked with the Demons’ defensive line under former coach Bradley Dale Peveto before serving last season as defensive coordinator and assistant head coach at Division II Missouri Southern.
And after a 4-7 campaign in 2012 that ended a four-year run for Peveto, Thomas was brought back as the school’s 14th head coach in the hopes of reviving one of the Southland’s winningest programs.
“Things change in a year’s time,” Thomas said of his return to Natchitoches and as a head coach. “When I left (after the 2011 season) and came back, it’s strange how fast time moves. I learned so much (as a head coach) and was grateful for the opportunity to get that knowledge at Nicholls. I feel that I’m a lot wiser in a lot of other areas of being a head coach — not just on the field, but also on the administrative side.”
Thomas, who enters his 17th season on a Southland Conference staff, will have familiarity with a defensive front that is paced by Amite native Lesley Deamer, who recorded a career-best 42 tackles last season and earned second-team All-SLC honors in 2010.
“The defensive line is probably the strongest point,” Thomas said. “We like to play a lot of guys, but I believe the focal point up front will be Lesley Deamer. We’ll move him around at defenstive tackle, nose and defensive end. We’ll get him into some one-on-one matchups to take advantage of his talents and showcase him.
“It will benefit us doing that.”
Preseason All-SLC selection Bert White — a former Redemptorist High standout — is the Demons’ leader in the secondary, with linebacker Pat Black (87 tackles) playing a vital role in the new multiple 3-4 scheme.
“We have a mix (of guys) at linebacker,” Thomas said. “We’re pretty young overall, but not inexperienced.
Directing the Demons spread offense will be one of four players — junior-college transfer Zach Adkins, redshirt freshman Daniel Hazlewood or a true freshman: T.J. Fleeton or J.D. Almond. A veteran line that boasts four seniors, anchored by preseason All-SLC selection Warren Jones, will protect whoever is directing the offense.
“The biggest questions we have is quarterback,” Thomas said.
Lafayette native Louis Hollier returns at receiver for the Demons after catching a team-high 28 passes. Daniel Taylor, a Lutcher native, led Northwestern State in rushing (304 yards) as a freshman and scored five touchdowns in 60 attempts. Robert Walker and Rumeall Morris also return at running back.
“Our running backs are different guys, Thomas said. “They all bring something different to the table.”