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College football: NSU’s Laird announces new coaching additions, promotion

by Russell Hedges

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

As the Northwestern State football team prepares to report to campus next week, it will do so among plenty of new faces on the coaching staff along with one holdover who has a new title.

Sixth-year head coach Brad Laird announced Tuesday the addition of four coaches who will make their NSU debuts this fall while adding the assistant head coach title to defensive coordinator Weston Glaser’s resume.

Joining the Demon staff are defensive line coach Chris Gistorb, wide receivers coach Armani Lonardo, linebackers coach/special teams coordinator Jeremy Atwell and cornerbacks coach Perry Carter. The quartet joins offensive line coach Boone Feldt as new additions to Laird’s staff since the conclusion of the 2022 season in November.

All four hires have been approved by the Board of Supervisors of the University of Louisiana System, which governs Northwestern State University.

“I am extremely excited about the quality of coaches and the quality men that we were able to bring to Northwestern State since the end of the 2022 season,” Laird said. “These young men bring different levels of experience and they are great recruiters, but most importantly, they are great men.”

Gistorb spent the 2022 season at his alma mater, UL Lafayette, as an assistant defensive line coach. In addition to helping the Ragin’ Cajuns reach the Independence Bowl, Gistorb helped develop Zi’yon Hill-Green into a first-team All-Sun Belt Conference selection.

Prior to his arrival at his alma mater where he played two seasons from 2000-01, Gistorb spent more than a decade coaching high school football in Texas, working primarily in the greater Houston area.

Since beginning his coaching career in 2007, Gistorb coached six Division I signees and another who earned a preferred walk-on spot at a Division I school. He produced three all-district defensive MVPs and eight first-team all-district selections.

An Alexandria native, Gistorb twice was a co-defensive coordinator – at Cy-Fair and Angleton high schools – and coached both defensive line and linebackers during his tour of five Texas high schools – Copperas Cove, Cy Ridge, Angleton, Bridgeland and Cy-Fair. 

“I give (defensive coordinator) coach (Weston) Glaser credit,” Laird said. “Through conversations with some coaches at (UL) Lafayette, knowing we were looking for a D-line coach, his name popped up. That interview, without having a prior relationship, doesn’t happen a lot in this profession. That just shows you what his interview was about. He blew us away. His passion and knowledge for the game was unmatched. You’ve seen that through the first couple of days of practice and what he’s been able to do for our defensive linemen.”

While Gistorb is new to the Southland Conference, linebackers coach Jeremy Atwell has a long history within the league.

Atwell came to Northwestern State after spending the 2022 season as Albany State’s defensive coordinator where he helped produce the No. 1 pass efficiency defense in the Southern Intercollegiate Athletic Conference and a top-10 scoring defense nationally at 14.9 points per game.

Atwell’s defense produced four all-conference selections for the Golden Rams.

Atwell spent the 2021 season at New Mexico Highlands as its defensive coordinator, helping the Cowboys win six games, their most since 2012. Atwell’s defense led the Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference in interceptions and was third in NCAA Division II in that category. The Cowboys also led the RMAC in total turnovers and ranked 11th nationally.

Atwell’s time in the Southland Conference totals nine seasons across two stints at Nicholls.

The longest run came from 2006-14 when Atwell was the Colonels’ defensive coordinator and assistant head coach. Under Atwell, Nicholls produced 21 all-conference players, three All-Americans and NFL Draft picks Lardarius Webb and Kareem More. Atwell also spent the 2001 season as Nicholls’ defensive ends coach.

Atwell has experience at two Louisiana high schools – as the head coach at Vandebilt Catholic High School in Houma from 2014-19 and as the assistant head coach at Thibodaux High School from 2002-06.

With the addition of Atwell to the NSU staff, Glaser will shift to coaching safeties.

“That was one thing coach Glaser looked to do at the end of the year – the possibility of moving to safeties,” Laird said. “When coach (Josh) Jones left, that made the decision a little easier. Bringing in someone with the experience of coach Atwell, who has not only been a defensive coordinator in college but in our conference and understands recruiting in the state of Louisiana, is a home run hire.”

Lonardo came to Northwestern State after spending the 2022 season as the offensive coordinator, quarterbacks coach and running backs coach at Southwestern Oklahoma State where he helped lead the Bulldogs from an 0-11 season to four wins.

Lonardo’s offense ranked second in the Great American Conference with 247 passing yards per game and saw its scoring improve by 11 points per game. Quarterback Tylan Morton led the GAC with 287 yards of total offense per game and SWOSU produced a pair of all-conference receivers.

Lonardo spent the 2020 and 2021 seasons at New Mexico Highlands where he coached with current NSU offensive coordinator Beau Blair. With the Cowboys, Lonardo was the quarterbacks coach and tutored Ramone Atkins, a first-team All-RMAC selection, who accounted for 3,283 total yards in 2021.

The Cowboys’ passing offense led the RMAC at 263.3 yards per game and 31 touchdowns and produced the RMAC Offensive Player of the Year, wide receiver CJ Sims.

Lonardo was the offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach at ASA College New York in 2019, helping the Avengers rank third nationally in points per game (45.9), fourth in total offense (465 yards per game) and fifth in rushing yards (2,323). ASA finished 8-2 that season and had a win against No. 12 Monroe.

Lonardo has been a graduate assistant at both Tarleton and Southeastern University in Florida as well as a training camp assistant with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

“There was a past relationship there with coach Blair,” Laird said. “Anytime you can bring in somebody who’s already schematically on the same page, it’s big. Plus, he’s been a coordinator before. When you add that type of knowledge to the offensive staff room, along with (offensive line) coach (Boone) Feldt and (quarterbacks) coach (Kyle) Washington, it helps develop different ideas.”

Carter brings NFL experience to the Demon staff, having worked eight seasons as an assistant defensive backs coach with the Houston Texans from 2006-13.

With the Texans, Carter tutored two-time Pro Bowl selection Johnathan Joseph as well as standout corners A.J. Bouye, Glover Quin and Kareem Jackson.

A four-year NFL veteran who also played in the Canadian Football League, Carter also is familiar with Louisiana having spent the 2021 season at Louisiana Tech after coaching three seasons at ULM. While in Monroe, Carter helped ULM’s Corey Straughter earn All-American honors as well as first-team All-Sun Belt acclaim.

That success followed a two-season run at North Texas where Carter molded Kishawn McClain into an All-Conference USA Freshman Team pick and coached the first pair of Mean Green safeties to record at least 100 tackles in the same season.

“What a great opportunity to add coach Carter to this coaching staff,” Laird said. “His background as a player and as a coach in professional football combined with his success at the collegiate level – and this being his third stint in Louisiana – was a huge pickup for NSU football. Success has followed him everywhere he has coached, and he has produced standout corners in both college and the NFL.”

Carter replaces longtime assistant coach De’Von Lockett, whose assistant head coach title was passed along to Glaser, who enters his second season on the Demon staff.

“I can’t say enough about what coach Glaser has meant to me and this team over the last year,” Laird said. “He has a great vision for this program and has been very instrumental inmoving this team in the right direction. Adding the assistant head coach title adds more duties for him as we continue to move forward with this program.”

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