How Natchitoches Central football went from 3-15 in two seasons to 6-0 in 2021

LaMar Gafford
Alexandria Town Talk

NATCHITOCHES – Going into this season, James Wilkerson knew that Natchitoches Central’s football fortunes would change in a matter of time.

After a 6-0 start, the Chiefs are well ahead of schedule.

Finishing winless last year at 0-8, NCHS is one of the biggest surprises across Louisiana with its best start in recent memory.

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“Everybody has just bought in to what we’re doing and what we’re trying to make this program become,” Wilkerson said. “We’re not surprised because we’ve been talking about expectations and that we expect to win each night. It’s been a lot of fun for the coaches, the boys and me.”

The Chiefs passed their first test of the season when Wilkerson beat fellow former Byrd assistant Stacy Ballew and the Yellow Jackets, 23-10, in Week 5 to hand them their first loss.

And it's another big one Friday against Captain Shreve as the Gators are 6-0 and led by junior quarterback Kenyon Terrell and senior athlete Kendrick Law. A win will put the Chiefs in the District 1-5A driver’s seat with three games left to play.

When Wilkerson took the job in January 2020, he inherited a team that went 3-7, but lost six of those games by seven points or less.

Byrd's Mitchell Ramsey runs the ball against Natchitoches Central in their District 1-5A football game Friday.

He hoped last season would be the year the Chiefs made improvement, but the COVID-19 pandemic wiped out three months of offseason preparation.

It led to a new mentality in the offseason where the team’s leaders and coaches held each player accountable to do their job.

“We learned that we have to put the work day in and day out,” Wilkerson said. “I think it’s something that hasn’t been preached around here very much, so we changed that. I think the kids are starting to understand that if you put the work, effort and time in, it will pay off for you. Getting them to understand all throughout the offseason was our biggest factor in determining our success this year.”

NCHS’s defense continues to be a staple – only giving up 7.1 points per game and not allowing an opponent  to score more than 14 points.

The Chiefs have an aggressive front seven that racked up five sacks against Southwood, but they also have an experienced secondary of four seniors to stop any passing attack.

Natchitoches Central's Justin Aaron goes high for a catch against Byrd in their District 1-5A football game Friday.

Justin Aaron leads the defensive backs with 47 tackles and two interceptions, while Braylin Demars, Justin Jackson and Reginald Bolden make up the rest of the group.

“We’re all ballhawks and each practice, we have to have to a certain amount of turnovers,” Aaron said.

“When I came in and took the job, I felt like defense had to be our strength until we got the offense rolling and they took that as a challenge,” Wilkerson said.

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The NCHS offense has jelled together with junior quarterback Brian Young Jr. and senior running back Caylin Demars leading the way.

“I had to be that guy,” Caylin said. “I’m getting a ton of the carries and I had to work hard during the offseason. We had to put guys in spots to help the team out.”

Caylin has rushed for 755 yards and nine touchdowns, while Young is a dual-threat quarterback that has accounted for 699 yards and eight touchdowns.

Natchitoches Central's Caylin Demars runs the ball against Byrd in their District 1-5A football game Friday.

“There was a lot of motivation (from 2019 and 2020),” Young said. “After those close losses, we knew we had a chance. We just had to string it together and this year, we’ve done that.”

Former NCHS alumni have stopped Wilkerson to congratulate him on the perfect start  – even if  he's  eating at a restaurant or shopping at the grocery store.

“It’s been fun,” Wilkerson said. “I want to talk to people and get to know them."

And the Chiefs will be the talk of the town if they win  their first district title since 1995.

"I love hearing their stories of what Natchitoches Central football used to be, so its fun having them back at the games and seeing them with their old T-shirts on," said Wilkerson. "I think it’s just been great for the community.”