NSU special teams has a few surprises in store

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NATCHITOCHES -- Northwestern State’s special teams depth chart released Tuesday looks a lot like the one that was on the locker room bulletin board at the start of preseason camp.

Adjustments in the returners roles, and sophomore Brandon Eberts winning the deep snapper’s job, were the only changes from how things stood at the end of spring practice.

The Demons will open the season, and play their first game under new head coach and NSU all-time passing leader Brad Laird, next Thursday, Aug. 30, at Texas A&M in a 7:30 contest televised on the SEC Network.

As Laird built his staff, he did not designate one assistant as the special teams coordinator, instead spreading aspects of the kicking game among the entire coaching roster. That required a collaborative effort earlier this week when the Demons settled on job assignments on special teams.

Eberts, a 5-10, 220-pound sophomore from Mandeville-St. Paul’s, got the call for the vital role of delivering the ball to kickers and punters.

Those duties were not altered. Redshirt sophomore Austyn Fendrick is NSU’s new kicker and returning starter Parker Pastorello, a junior, retained the punting job. Pastorello will hold for extra points and field goals.

Senior receiver Jaylen Watson opens the year as the top punt returner, with sophomore safety Hayden Bourgeois, last year’s incumbent, available as needed.

Redshirt freshman receiver Myles Ward, a speedster from Harvey and De La Salle High School, joins junior safety Ryan Reed as the primary kickoff returners going into the visit to College Station next week.

Ward ran on a state championship 4x100 meter relay team in high school. Reed was an all-state quarterback in a run-oriented offense at West Feliciana High.

Watson had a 33-yard punt runback on one of two tries last year. Bourgeois averaged 11.2 yards on 10 returns, including a 27-yarder.

Fendrick, a left-footer, made a 34-yard field goal and missed wide left on a 54-yarder last season at Grambling, pinch-hitting for senior Eric Piccione, sidelined with a concussion.

Pastorello averaged 38.7 yards on 53 punts in 2017, having 16 downed inside the 20 and another 19 fair caught. He had a 71-yarder, sixth-longest in school history, at Nicholls and threw a 58-yard touchdown pass on a fake punt against Central Arkansas.

The Demons resumed practice Tuesday afternoon following two days off. They will stage a mock game Wednesday at 6 in Turpin Stadium, with no tackling or forceful contact, focusing on assignments and organization eight days away from the 2018 kickoff.