By Jason Pugh, Northwestern State Assistant Athletic Director for Media Relations
NATCHITOCHES – For the first time since becoming the head football coach at his alma mater, Brad Laird is surrounded by several new faces on his coaching staff.
Laird announced Monday the addition of four new assistants to his staff, welcoming Kevon Beckwith (defensive line), Joey Fitzgerald (quarterbacks), Rashad Jackson (wide receivers/special teams coordinator) and Josh Jones (safeties) to Northwestern State. Each hire is subject to approval of the Board of Supervisors of the University of Louisiana System, which governs Northwestern State.
“This is a group of great personalities, great family men who will bring new thoughts and ideas to our existing staff,” said Laird, who begins his fourth season at the helm of the Demons on Sept. 4 at North Texas.
“They have a great knowledge of the game, winning backgrounds from their previous coaching stops and they have a terrific ability to relate to young men – both on and off the field. I could not be prouder to add these four men to the Natchitoches and Northwestern State communities. With their addition to the great coaches and players we have here, we look forward to what the future holds.”
Although all four coaches are new to Northwestern State, they each have ties that predate their arrival.
Beckwith began his coaching career as a student assistant at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette, spending three seasons (2014-16) in that role before working two seasons as a graduate assistant with the Ragin’ Cajuns.
A two-time UL Lafayette graduate, Beckwith spent the 2019 and 2020 seasons as an assistant defensive line coach at Austin Peay. While with the Governors, Beckwith helped Austin Peay reach the 2019 FCS Quarterfinals. In Beckwith’s two seasons on staff, Austin Peay won 15 games.
In his five seasons with the Ragin’ Cajuns, Beckwith helped tutor four All-Sun Belt Conference selections, including 2016 SBC Freshman of the Year Joe Dillon. In 2014, Christian Ringo and Justin Hamilton earned first-team All-Sun Belt honors with Ringo emerging as the All-Louisiana Defensive Player of the Year.
“I love the fact we were able to Kevon back to Louisiana,” Laird said. “From New Orleans to Lafayette and now to Natchitoches, his experience and success at ULL and Austin Peay speak for themselves. He is familiar with some of our current players through his time at Lafayette and recruiting the state. He is a detailed teacher of the game and provides outstanding knowledge of the defensive line.”
The Demons didn’t have to leave the state to find their quarterbacks coach, reaching up to ULM to bring in Fitzgerald.
A Virginia native who played quarterback at Hampden-Sydney College, Fitzgerald makes his second stop in the Southland Conference, having previously coached wide receivers at Southeastern Louisiana in 2017.
That season, the Lions ranked third in the conference in both scoring (34.8 ppg) and total offense (428.1 ypg). Fitzgerald helped coach return specialist Juwan Petit-Frere to All-American honors as Petit-Frere averaged 34.6 yards per kick return, taking two back for scores.
In between his stops at SLU and ULM, Fitzgerald served as a recruiting specialist for Dan Mullen’s Florida Gators in 2018. The Gators posted a 10-3 mark that season, walloping No. 7 Michigan, 41-15, in the Peach Bowl.
Earlier in his career, Fitzgerald spent two seasons (2013-14) as a graduate assistant under Mullen at Mississippi State and was part of a staff that helped the Bulldogs earn the first No. 1 ranking in program history and reached the Orange Bowl.
Fitzgerald started his professional coaching career at Eastern Kentucky in 2015, coaching tight ends. Under his direction, Ben Maddon led Ohio Valley Conference tight ends in catches (34) and yards (456), earning first-team all-conference honors.
“Joey has both played and coached quarterbacks and has coached wide receivers as well,” Laird said. “He also understands Louisiana and the Southland Conference. His background with Dan Mullen at Mississippi State and Florida was appealing as was his work with local legend Dak Prescott while Dak was playing at Mississippi State.”
While Fitzgerald and Beckwith have ties to Louisiana, Jackson’s resume includes a familiar stop for several Demon coaches – Trinity Valley Community College.
Ahead of spending the 2019 and 2020 seasons at Arkansas State, Jackson was the offensive coordinator at Trinity Valley in 2018, the first season after NSU offensive coordinator Brad Smiley came to Natchitoches.
Jackson’s lone season with the Cardinals kept the program’s track record of high-powered offenses alive as TVCC averaged 410 yards per game, ranking 12th nationally.
Following that season, Jackson moved to Arkansas State where he tutored tight ends, including current Demon Javonis Isaac.
In 2019, Jackson helped the Red Wolves offense produce the sixth-most yards (5,711) in single-season school history. The 6.2 yards per play average for the Red Wolves that season ranked second in school history.
Prior to arriving at Trinity Valley, Jackson spent nine seasons at East Central University, finishing his stay there as the offensive coordinator.
Jackson coached quarterbacks (2009-11), wide receivers (2012-17) and tight ends (2017) at ECU, helping produce 30 All-Great American Conference selections, five All-Lone Star Conference honorees and two Division II All-Americans. Five of Jackson’s players set school records at East Central.
Jackson, who has been an NFL summer coaching intern with Seattle (2016), Detroit (2015) and Denver (2013), coached in The Spring League this past spring and spent the 2008 season as the director of player development at Kansas State.
“He has worked with not only every position offensively but his background in special teams shows he has the ability to work with the entire team,” Laird said. “From D-II, junior college, D-I and The Spring League, he has the experience and success at all levels. His versatility is second to none. I’m excited to watch him continue the tradition of molding great wide receivers and to watch him affect everyone on this team with his role in special teams.”
Jones comes to Northwestern State after a short stint at UAPB as its safeties coach.
Prior to that, Jones coached cornerbacks at South Alabama for three seasons (2018-20). In that time, he helped Jalen Thompson emerge as the Jaguars’ all-time leader in interceptions (9). Thompson also ended his career tied for second in school history with 22 pass break-ups.
In his first season on the South Alabama staff, Jones helped Darian Mills earn honorable mention All-Sun Belt Conference, becoming the third Jaguar to earn all-league honors.
Much like Fitzgerald, Jones has previous ties to the Southland Conference, spending the 2016 and 2017 seasons as the cornerbacks coach at Central Arkansas.
In that time, the Bears went 20-5 overall and 17-1 in Southland play. While at UCA, Jones helped Tremon Smith and Tyler Williams earn All-Southland Conference honors with Williams finding himself on multiple All-American teams after leading the nation in pass break-ups.
This fall, Smith will begin his fourth season in the NFL.
Jones began his professional career as an assistant coach at Henderson State, helping the Reddies to an 11-2 mark and a 2015 Division II playoff berth.
An All-American at both Minnesota State-Moorhead and at Harding University, Jones played professional indoor football for the Green Bay Blizzard and the Utah Blaze.
“Having been in this conference and winning championships, Josh understands what it takes to be successful in this conference,” Laird said. “He has a proven pedigree at every stop along the way and has shown the ability to be successful.”
— Featured photo courtesy of NSU Sports Information