- Jason Pugh
- Photo: Northwestern State running back Jared West has 18 career rushing touchdowns, tied for seventh-most in school history. Credit: Chris Reich/NSU Photographic Services
NATCHITOCHES – Time is ticking on running back Jared West’s Northwestern State football career.
With just three games remaining, beginning with Saturday’s 6:30 p.m. Southland Conference matchup against Lamar, West has put himself in position finish with a flourish.
West has enjoyed one of the most productive stretches of his career in the past four weeks, tallying seven touchdowns in that span, propelling him into the top 50 nationally in total touchdowns among Football Championship Subdivision players.
Behind West, the Northwestern State offense has found its red-zone rhythm, scoring at an 85-percent clip (17-for-20) in that span. All seven of West’s touchdowns in that span have come within the red zone and have come after the New Orleans native scored just twice in the Demons’ first five games.
“I thought about it the other day,” West said of the notion he is playing catch-up in the scoring category. “You don’t think about it when it’s time, but it’s in the back of your mind that I’ve got to play catch-up.”
Included in West’s scoring spree was a three-touchdown game at then-No. 20 Incarnate Word, which led to more friendly ribbing from former teammate De’Mard Llorens. Northwestern State’s 44-41 win against the Cardinals marked the second time West had tallied three rushing scores in a game, joining his 2017 performance against Lamar.
The three rushing touchdowns are one shy of tying the school record, something Llorens did against Nicholls in 2015 when West was a true freshman.
“We talked about it,” West said with a big smile. “He wasn’t too harsh on me about it, but he reminded me about it once again.”
Part of the reason West was unable to tie his former teammate and mentor was because he showed just how well-rounded his game has become.
Trailing 41-38 in overtime and facing fourth-and-goal from the UIW 1, quarterback Shelton Eppler’s hard count got UIW to jump offsides. With a defensive lineman headed toward Eppler threatening to end NSU’s free play before it started, West shifted over and made the block to allow Eppler to find Quan Shorts for the game-winning score.
The block capped an overtime session in which West flashed his versatility, catching a pass for a first down on a checkdown pass and running for another before stonewalling the free rusher in front of Eppler.
“He’s one that as you’ve seen him grow this year, he’s having fun,” second-year head coach Brad Laird said. “This is a tough game, and you’ve got to have fun doing it. He’s shown toughness when the ball’s been in his hands or when the ball hasn’t been in his hands, like the block he made at UIW. Day in and day out, week in and week out, he comes to work with a positive attitude, and that shows to the other guys.”
West credited the two seasons he spent in the program alongside Llorens for instilling that type of attitude.
Llorens finished his career as the No. 10 all-time rusher in school history (2,381) and is tied for fifth in career rushing touchdowns. West is tied with Byron Lawrence for seventh on the career rushing touchdown list at 18, leaving him six shy of a top-five career finish.
West’s plan is to pay forward the lessons he learned from Llorens.
“He’s the reason I’m the way I am with the younger backs,” said West, who completed his undergraduate degree in business administration in May. “We were in the same type of situation, a young guy who needed to step up early. I learned a lot from him, and I’m sharing the knowledge down the line and hopefully the younger guys can share it too.”
For West, a visit from Lamar could help him continue to climb that list. West has scored a touchdown in all three career appearances against the Cardinals, reaching paydirt five times in those matchups. All five of those came on the ground, but West has established himself as a key part of the Demons’ passing game in his final season.
In addition to catching his first career scoring pass – a 12-yarder against Central Arkansas – West has tallied 30 catches this season, including a pair of seven-catch games. It is all part of West’s plan he laid out in the offseason, one that has played to form in 2019.
“Every time I step on the field, I want to be 100 percent doing my job whether it’s running, blocking or catching,” West said. “In our offense, we have to be able to pass block, run and catch. Shelton reads the defense so well that the checkdown is always a viable option, especially with Quan Shorts and our other receivers who are vertical threats. Those little things matter. It’s something coach Laird has preached since the first time I met him.”