NATCHITOCHES -- The depth chart for Northwestern State’s new up-tempo offense has more starters than it has places on the field, including a pair at quarterback.
Head coach Brad Laird told the capacity crowd at Thursday’s annual NSU-Walk On’s Independence Bowl Luncheon in Shreveport that both senior Clay Holgorsen and junior Shelton Eppler will play in a week when the Demons debut on Thursday, Aug. 30 at Texas A&M.
“You reflect on spring practice, with a new scheme, new terminology and a new coaching staff, all the way through the summer and fall, we’ve had two guys who have earned the right to play,” said Laird. “You look at the leadership they’ve brought not only on the field but off it, and their decision making has been smart, getting the ball in the hands of playmakers.”
While there’s a photo finish in the quarterback battle, NSU’s offensive lineup has 12 other starting slots, depending on what formation is used.
One of the receiver spots is also still undecided entering game week. Texas Tech transfer Quan Shorts, a junior, and senior Marquisian Chapman, who caught 31 passes including three for touchdowns last season, are even at the Y slot receiver position.
The other slot receiver’s role is in the hands of former walk-on Bryson Bourque, a senior who overcame back surgery to become the starting H-back. Bourque was the Offensive Most Valuable Player last April in the 29th Annual Joe Delaney Bowl spring game after catching six passes for 155 yards.
Outside, LSU transfer Jazz Ferguson has earned the X receiver job for his junior season and senior Jaylen Watson, the Demons’ leading receiver last season with 484 yards and four touchdowns on 31 catches, is the first-team Z receiver. Senior Kalen Meggs is the starting tight end after catching just two passes in 2017, one for a touchdown, but displaying nifty hands in preseason camp.
Junior Jared West, who scored five touchdowns and ran for a 5.2 average on 63 carries last season in a backup role, is the starting running back, with true sophomore Stadford Anderson (207 yards on 52 carries, 4.0 average, 1 TD in 2017) as the other back in a two-back set.
Up front, the first five has a combined 36 starts even without senior Chris Zirkle, out for most of 2018 after offseason shoulder surgery. Zirkle has 23 starts and could return late in the season.
Fellow senior Frank Boudreaux, the left guard, has 19 career starts. Senior right guard Timmis Bonner has seven at center, while left tackle Johnathan Hubbard, a junior, opened six games last year and right tackle Dustin Burns started four, a couple at center.
But the starting center is redshirt freshman Kenny Sheldon, also backed up by a redshirt freshman, Jake Gore.
The Demons spent two hours in Turpin Stadium Thursday afternoon and will return Friday at 3. The players get Saturday off, then begin complete focus on the Aggies Sunday afternoon at 3, with practices at 4 p.m. Monday and Tuesday before traveling to Texas on Wednesday.