NATCHITOCHES -- There were no football activities Tuesday, but plenty for the Northwestern State Demons to absorb as they reported for preseason camp with the first practice sessions kicking off Wednesday pointing toward an Aug. 30 opener at Texas A&M.
Players checked in to the Stroud Room at the NSU Athletic Fieldhouse, completed paperwork and medical assessments, picked up any necessary equipment, and were treated to a grilled chicken lunch hosted by a dozen Demons who played in the 1970s and early 1980s.
In those days, Billy Laird was NSU’s creative offensive coordinator. Now his son, Brad Laird, is preparing for his first season as the Demons’ head coach.
Tuesday afternoon, Laird hosted NSU president Dr. Chris Maggio, a former high school quarterback and offensive coordinator, for remarks to the squad, followed by athletics director Greg Burke and other university staff.
The team had a steak dinner Tuesday evening before Laird outlined his expectations for the 2018 season in an evening meeting. Wednesday, the returning players practice at 9:15 with the newcomers’ workout set for 3:30 at Turpin Stadium.
Players and coaches were primed for the start of camp.
“We’ve been working out since spring. It’s a grind, and you’re always looking forward to having fall camp,” said junior running back Jared West. “It’s when competition starts.”
Laird relished the prospects.
“Now you’re preparing at the end of the road is the opportunity to play Texas A&M, to host Grambling, to get going into conference play,” he said. “The pace is different and the mindset is, too, because of what’s at the end of the road.”
Over two dozen newcomers were on hand, including true freshman safety Jordan Hester of Shreveport-Woodlawn.
“It seems like it took so long to get here, from my high school career to signing day and now. I’m excited,” said Hester. “I’m glad to be here. I want to grow as a player and as a teammate, and help my team get better.”
His early plan is to role model the returning players, especially those at his position.
“You have to listen to everything they say. They know way more than us right now,” said Hester. “They know the playbook, they know the ins and outs and the correct way to do everything.”
West, who arrived on campus from New Orleans-Brother Martin as a late signee in 2015, has emerged as NSU’s top running back, averaging a team-high 5.2 yards per carry with five touchdowns on the ground last season. Honing his skills is a priority in the Demons’ new high-tempo offense, and close behind in the next few weeks is showing the ropes to the newcomers.
“When I first came in as a freshman, I had guys who looked after me, like (fellow running backs) De’Mard Llorens and Daniel Taylor. Now I’m in those shoes to help out the younger guys,” he said. “I understand that as fall practice flies by, it’s going to be kind of rough on some of them, and I’m in position to where I have to make sure they’re doing the right things, learning the playbook.”
While nobody broke a sweat Tuesday, other than perhaps the equipment and sports medicine staffs, Laird was precise with his messaging and acutely observant of every move his players made.
“The expectations that we as a staff have for them, the veterans understand. We got that across during offseason and in spring ball, and this summer,” he said. “They understand how we’re going to get there: coming to work every day with the mindset to win at everything we’re going to do, even before we take a step on the field.”
Over 100 players reported Tuesday and all in camp should be in action all week as the practices are split each day, with the veterans in the morning and the newcomers in the afternoon. After a day off Sunday, the team unites for workouts next week and the first preseason intrasquad game on Saturday morning, Aug. 11.