By: Doug Ireland – NSUDemons.com
The scoreboard on Saturdays hasn’t been kind to the Northwestern State football team this fall.
But the Demons are winning big in other ways, a couple which presented themselves on a wonderful Wednesday last week.
The Wuerffel Trophy came to NSU and Natchitoches, and with it were the initial winner, 2005 recipient Rudy Niswanger, the former LSU and NFL center, and its caretaker, Tom Brassell. The Wuerffel Trophy’s executive director, Brassell came home to his alma mater, where he was a Demon golfer in the late 1970s.
Deep ties brought the other visitors, 12-year-old Morgan Reeves and his mom, Lindsey. Morgan’s grandfather Stan Powell played for the Demons in the late 1940s, and his son, Stan Jr., was a Demon quarterback whose teammates included College Football Hall of Fame members Joe Delaney and Gary Reasons, and Pro Bowl quarterback Bobby Hebert and receiver Mark Duper.
The Wuerffel Trophy and the Reeves had a serendipitous intersection for lunch at the Demon Quarterback Club, where almost four dozen supporters heard from Brassell and Niswanger. A couple of hours later, they met again in the Demons’ Ready Room, as head coach Jay Thomas departed from the team’s regular pre-practice meeting schedule.
He felt a message from Niswanger would bring inspiration for his players and coaches, snakebit by injuries and costly late-game falters in a one-win season. It did. So did Niswanger’s introduction by Brassell, who spoke passionately about his love for NSU and his admiration for Wuerffel and Niswanger.
“Hearing Tom talk about what it meant to come back here, and the message he brought us, and the introduction he gave Rudy, was enough right there,” said Thomas. “There’s a special perspective hearing from a guy who’s put on the pads not only on Saturday nights, but on those hot August days, on those pretty spring days, when there’s no glory in it.
“Rudy didn’t focus on talking football, although our guys enjoyed hearing that part of it. His passion about keeping high standards, and living unselfishly, giving back, was something that we’ll hold on to for a long time,” said Thomas. “He and Tom spent the afternoon with us, watched practice, talked to our injured guys on the sideline. It was a wonderful experience.”
Niswanger and Brassell also showcased the trophy and greeted dozens of visitors during a Chamber of Commerce “After Hours” reception at the stunning Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame museum in historic downtown Natchitoches, then capped their visit with a conversation with more NSU student-athletes from other sports.
The Wuerffel Trophy, known as “College Football’s Premier Award for Community Service,” is presented annually by the All Sports Association in Fort Walton Beach. Named after 1996 Heisman Trophy winning quarterback Danny Wuerffel, from the University of Florida, the Wuerffel Trophy is awarded to the player who best combines exemplary community service with athletic and academic achievement.
Brassell is working to expand the Wuerffel Trophy’s scope to the FCS level of Division I football. Since its inception in 2005, it’s been available exclusively to nominees from the FBS, but it seems likely its glow will expand beginning in 2017 to shower remarkable student-athletes at FCS programs like NSU, McNeese, Sam Houston State, Grambling, Southern, Jacksonville State, Eastern Washington, North Dakota State, Lehigh, North Carolina A&T, Youngstown State, and even Harvard, Yale, Princeton and their brethren.
Seeing the trophy and hearing the message Niswanger and Brassell shared was another special dimension of Morgan Reeves’ visit. His mother reached out a few weeks earlier, explaining the family ties to NSU, and her son’s plans to do a school project on Demon football history.
They came to NSU’s home game the previous weekend and soaked in the scene, with Morgan taking copious notes and snapping dozens of photos. He interviewed Demon Sports Network play-by-play veteran Patrick Netherton, who lives in their hometown of Shreveport.
“On our way home he said that this was one of the greatest days of his life,” said his mom.
Morgan is an exceptionally bright boy who is prevented from enjoying playing contact sports by a brain malformation, something you wouldn’t know looking at the rosy-cheeked, energetic kid. He’s not timid. He quickly made the rounds at the luncheon, setting up an interview with NSU legend Johnnie Emmons, who had played with Morgan’s grandfather in the late 1940s, then spending several minutes talking with current-day Demon players Lyn Clark and Tyler O’Donoghue.
He sat down with Thomas after lunch, then got a guided tour of the Demon football offices as he proudly wore the NSU cap that he was presented by football secretary Elizabeth Holloway as he and Lindsey checked in for lunch.
“Not being able to play does not keep him from loving it and learning from it,” said his mom. “(Wednesday) he said he felt like he was a Demon and that meant so much to him and to me. He was so excited to tell his uncle Stan all about his day. Coach Thomas, staff, and the team made a 12-year-old boy feel like a king.”
That’s a victory that doesn’t chalk up points on any scoreboard. Neither does the Demon team’s cumulative 2.9 grade point average, or its projected 975 Academic Progress Rate score to be announced next spring by the NCAA, or the hundreds of hours of community service that players perform annually, some on their own, outside team activities.
It’s winning in a bigger way, which was arm in arm with Niswanger’s message, and the ideals espoused by the Wuerffel Trophy. Despite what the record is, these Demons have what it takes – in life.
Doug Ireland is the Assistant Athletic Director/Sports Information Director at Northwestern State University and Chairman of Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame. He can be reached at (318) 357-6747, at email@example.com or visit NSUDemons.com for more fantastic articles from Ireland.