NATCHITOCHES -- As 95 Northwestern State football players reported Wednesday to open preseason camp, veteran team leaders were unabashedly upbeat looking forward to the first practices Friday and ahead to the Sept. 1 season opener at Texas Tech.
"We're real excited about getting started," said senior safety Jamaal White. "We were up here all summer with our new strength coach (Joey Guarascio), and I believe we got a lot of great work in. Now is when it begins to show. We've been working hard, and we're ready."
The Demons checked into campus housing and were issued equipment Wednesday, also going through physical exams and other screenings with the medical staff, along with a series of meetings regarding academic, compliance and policy issues.
Thursday will bring more meetings along with physical conditioning tests before Friday's first practice sessions, at 9:40 a.m. in Turpin Stadium for the veterans and at 4:40 Friday afternoon for the newcomers.
"I'm super excited. This is the last hurrah for me and my classmates, and we're shooting for that championship and to make a run in the playoffs," said senior running back Sidney Riley. "I was grinding and working out here all summer. I didn't go home at all. We've gone 5-6 the last two years, and I'm really tired of that. We've been playing too long, working too hard, to not get something more out of it, and when I leave Northwestern State, I want to be remembered as a champion."
Senior offensive lineman Larry Calcote made the adjustment during spring practice to a new position coach, 19-year college coaching veteran Allen Rudolph. With the addition of newcomers, Calcote said his optimism is boundless entering the season.
"It's exciting for me because it's my senior year, but I'm more excited for this team. We have 20 offensive linemen coming in, a lot of new players, and if you ask me, we're the team to beat," he said. "I'm excited to get this thing rolling. You can't expect anything but our all. Get your tickets now, it's going to be a great show."
Nic Russo, who had a breakout year as a junior in 2011 as the Demons' punter, said the team's intensity is at unprecedented levels.
"This will be my fifth year here, and this is the most hyped-up preseason as far as the players being so excited. Players are texting and messaging each other all summer asking ‘are you ready?' and raising the intensity," said Russo. "I'm really excited to see where this team is going to go."
Among the 95 players in camp are 27 who haven't taken the field before as Demons, including 21 freshmen. Russo said their best course of action in the coming days is to have wide open eyes and ears, and zipped lips.
"My advice to the freshmen would be watch, listen and absorb, don't talk too much. They have a lot to learn and they are expected to be ready to play right away. What was done before today doesn't matter, it's all about how much better you get day after day against the best competition you've ever seen."