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College football: NSU adds four transfers to roster

by Russell Hedges

By Jason Pugh, Northwestern State Assistant Athletic Director for Media Relations

NATCHITOCHES – The Northwestern State football team added four new faces ahead of the spring semester.

Joining the Demons for the 2024 season are transfer Blake Gotcher, Kekahi Graham, Landry Huddleston and Isaiah Ybarra.

The new additions are split equally among offense and defense.

Graham, a 6-foot, 190-pound sophomore quarterback, threw for 2,013 yards and 21 touchdowns in 10 games for Pasadena College this past fall. Highlighting a season in which Graham led Pasadena to a 9-2 record was a 407-yard, five-touchdown performance in a 59-13 win against Desert. That followed a six-touchdown day in a 70-13 win against West Los Angeles in which Graham threw for 277 yards.

Graham added one of his four rushing touchdowns on the season against West Los Angeles.

A native of Honolulu, Hawaii, Graham played his high school football at St. Louis, following in the footsteps of current NFL quarterbacks Marcus Mariota and Tua Tagovailoa.

“We are very excited to have Kahi join our program,” first-year head coach Blaine McCorkle said. “He comes to us as highly recommended as anyone I can remember. He had a tremendous pedigree and his numbers speak for themselves. More than that, I think Kahi brings a unique spirit to our team that will be infectious in the locker room. Through the recruiting process, he and his family have been a joy to get to know, and I’m certain the Natchitoches community will come to appreciate all this extremely talented young man brings.”

Joining Graham on the offensive side of the ball is offensive lineman Isaiah Ybarra, a transfer from Stetson University.

Ybarra will be reunited in Natchitoches with offensive coordinator Norman Joseph, who joined the Demon staff earlier this month. Ybarra appeared in six games for the Hatters in 2023.

A 6-3, 290-pounder, Ybarra earned first-team all-state and all-district honors at Katy High School in Katy, Texas.

“Isiaha is a big and talented offensive lineman who definitely helps us at a position of need,” McCorkle said. “He has a great amount of game experience while still being a very young player. He has good size and athleticism and can potentially help us at a couple of positions up front. I am really excited to see him compete this spring.”

Defensively, the Demons added a pair of linebackers – one of whom is plenty familiar with McCorkle and defensive coordinator Matt Conner.

Huddleston transferred to Northwestern State after playing two seasons for McCorkle and Conner at Belhaven.

A 5-foot-10, 210-pounder from Irvington, Alabama, Huddleston recorded 52 career tackles (8.5 for loss) and 4.5 sacks in 18 games for the Blazers. A two-time USA South Defensive Rookie of the Week during the 2022 season, Huddleston also recorded a pair of interceptions, two pass breakups and two forced fumbles during the Blazers’ USA South championship season of 2023.

“Landry is obviously a player we are very familiar with,” McCorkle said. “He was a standout for us at Belhaven, and he brings great intensity and passion with him. He can run, and he can hit. He will join us this spring as a walk-on and knows fully he has to prove himself in the FCS ranks daily. I am very excited to have Hud in the locker room as well as he can help guys immediately understand the expectations and culture we are building.”

As much as Huddleston is familiar with the Demon coaching staff, Gotcher is the same with the Southland Conference.

A three-year letterman at Lamar, Gotcher started 11 games for the Cardinals and appeared in 22 total. His best season came in 2022 when he started all 11 games, recording 61 tackles (second-best on the team), six quarterback hurries, a sack, an interception, a forced fumble and a pass breakup. 

Prior to playing at Lamar, Gotcher (6-1, 225) prepped at Lone Star High School in Frisco, Texas, where he tied the school interception record and helped the Rangers compile a 31-8 record in his three seasons, including a 14-1 mark as a junior. 

“Like the offensive line, linebacker is a focus for us in this recruiting class, and Blake helps fill immediate needs in that room,” McCorkle said. “He has played a lot of football at a high level in the Southland Conference, including playing here in Turpin Stadium. I like his stoic demeanor and intensity, and I hope to see it translate on the field for us. He has a relationship already with a few of our current roster members, and I’m certain he will fit in well as we move forward.”

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