Veronica Northern had hoped that one day, she’d see her son take over as the head football coach at Southern University.
It wasn’t a pipe dream. After all, Heishma Northern seemed like a good fit for the gig.
He grew up here. He attended Glen Oaks High. He was a safety at Southern, playing for Marino Casem and Pete Richardson.
He watched his dad, Lloyd, work as a BREC football coach. He saw how the troublemakers straightened up when Lloyd Northern and some of the other grownups came around. He saw how Lloyd told young boys, over and over, they had three major obligations: understand the importance of teamwork, graduate from school, become a productive citizen.
Yeah, more than anyone, Lloyd Northern was responsible for turning Heishma on to the coaching profession.
So when Stump Mitchell got the Southern job in 2010, naturally, Veronica Northern was disappointed.
“I told her, the Lord has a place and a time for all of us,” Lloyd Northern recalled. “That proved to not be the time for Heish. But sometimes, when the door closes, we forget about the ones that open.”
Of course, it all worked out.
One year later, Heishma Northern was promoted to head coach at Prairie View, where he’d served as defensive coordinator for six years.
Last month, when his Panthers rallied to defeat Texas Southern 37-34 - earning for Northern his first victory as a college head coach - assorted friends and family members were there at Delmar Stadium.
Only one person was missing.
Veronica. She had died of a heart attack on June 4, 2010.
“I got very emotional at that game, because the whole time, I wished that my wife could be there to see what all had happened,” Lloyd Northern said. “I was just so proud of him and his guys fighting back.”
At 6 p.m. Saturday, the Panthers (3-2, 3-1 Southwestern Athletic Conference) face Mitchell and Southern (2-3, 2-1) inside A.W. Mumford Stadium. It is a matchup of two teams who are in the race for first place in the Western Division - something of a pleasant surprise for both programs.
Looking much better than they did in Mitchell’s debut season, the Jaguars snapped a two-game slide last week with a 28-21 win at Mississippi Valley State. They’re only a half-game out of first place, behind a suddenly resurgent Prairie View.
The Panthers opened the Northern era with an embarrassing 63-14 loss against Bethune-Cookman at Orlando, Fla., in the MEAC/SWAC Challenge. But they’ve rebounded by winning three of their past four games.
“They’re bringing in a team that right now is in first place. There’s no question that they want to stay there,” Mitchell said. “We want to get where they’re at. So that makes for an exciting football game.”
It will also be a homecoming of sorts - not only for Heishma Northern, but a handful of others.
His younger brother, Gabe, the former LSU standout, is Prairie View’s defensive line coach.
Raasaan Haralson, a Redemptorist High graduate who also played at SU, is the cornerbacks coach.
At Heishma’s wedding in 2004, Gabe was the best man. Haralson was a groomsman. The reception was at the Smith-Brown Memorial Student Union ... on the beautiful campus of Southern University.
One other important connection: Offensive coordinator Mark Orlando, the former longtime assistant to then-coach Pete Richardson, is running Heishma Northern’s offense.
“I know a lot of people are going to be pulling for me, but my sister always handles my ticket requests. So if anybody wants tickets, give her a call,” Heishma Northern said with a chuckle. “The only people that I am going to guarantee tickets for are my dad, my sister and a couple other relatives, and a couple of my high-school and collegiate coaches that are still in Baton Rouge.”
Mitchell, for his part, said he gets the underlying story of Saturday’s game. Heck, maybe the Northern fan base can help fill a few seats.
“A lot of people are going to be excited ... because coach Northern is returning home,” Mitchell noted. “It’s going to be exciting for him and for some coaches on their staff, as well. Hopefully, that will help attendance.”
Of course, all the family fun will take a back seat to business. Which is only fitting.
“He jokes around a lot, but when it’s game time, he’s strictly business,” said Landry Williams, an old teammate at Glen Oaks and Southern. “Heish always seemed like the coaching type. Very detail-oriented. He always understood why things happen - not only plays, but what they meant and what we were trying to accomplish within the system.”
This week, he’ll be coaching at A.W. Mumford Stadium - something his family envisioned all along.
“Whether they win or lose, I’m still proud of him,” Lloyd Williams said. “And I always will be.”
So, too, will one other person, who’s watching from above.