by Doug Ireland

It’s time for some football, and to see all that’s new at NSU

If there’s day after day of 100-degree heat, one sure bet around these parts is, it’s football season.

Argue climate change all you want, but nobody will argue that when the heat is most oppressive, high school and college teams hand out the shoulder pads and helmets and get to work in full-fledged preseason practices. That’s been true since before football teams had mascots.

It’s hard to imagine that a couple of generations ago, water was withheld from players in practice. Salt tablets were part of the scientific solution. Gatorade was a new, odd-tasting, green concoction in glass jars.

We’re smarter now, right? Well, any coach or players would say so. Practices are limited in scope and number, preseason conditioning and strength training goes on throughout summer (and really, all year), there are nutrition guidelines and many, many more (in some places) athletic trainers keeping eyes and ears on heat indexes and weight lost during practice and such.

Two-a-day practices are few and far between. They used to go on for at least a week, maybe two.

Anybody remember making it home after the morning practice, inhaling a jar or two of Gatorade, and spreading out on the bed in front of the window unit, budging only for lunch, then reluctantly stirring in time for that afternoon workout that was gonna be even tougher – in pads?

Toughness is still a requirement to play football. It’s just a different brand of tough, a smarter way to play, a safer way to play. Things evolve. Change is difficult for many of us to understand, let alone embrace. But it is constant, and in college sports, happening at a frenetic pace.

Take, for example, the Northwestern State football program. The Demons still play in Turpin Stadium, wearing purple and white with orange trim, and … otherwise, a lot has changed since NSU walked out of Cowboy Stadium in Lake Charles last Nov. 20 with a noteworthy 24-20 victory, the Demons’ first in the Lake City since when Alexandria’s Scott Stoker was the winning QB, with Pineville products Jeff Steers and Robbie Martin on the offensive line.

To stay on point, we’ll stick to recent history. Since NSU’s buses got back to Natchitoches that evening (it was a noon kickoff), plenty has changed.

As Brad Laird convened his fifth Demon squad Aug. 2, there’s:

     • Six new assistant coaches (of 8 total), including new offensive, defensive and special teams
     • Almost 50 new players, the vast majority transfers, either from junior colleges or mostly four-
         year schools
     • New lights at Turpin Stadium, a badly needed improvement for years
     • A new (but not brand-new) artificial turf playing surface, this one broken in by the New Orleans
         Saints in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome, but barely used by the Saints, the Sugar Bowl, the New
         Orleans Bowl, and a handful of other games, including the LHSAA’s Superdome Classic
     • A new athletic director (Kevin Bostian) for the first time since August 1996
     • A new university president (Marcus Jones), although the third for NSU in eight years, and the
         first in forever who admittedly does not speak sports;

Vic the Demon is still the mascot, and the Spirit of Northwestern remains a splendid marching band with well over 300 members.

Another standard is a demanding schedule, something that hopefully Bostian can address in future seasons to create more favorable scenarios for success. Not saying NSU can’t win, but the degree of difficulty is steep when you open at perennial FCS power Montana, and there’s not a lower-division breather to be seen. The FBS money games are an unfortunate necessity but counterbalancing them with obviously overmatched lower-division foes – why not Louisiana College? – is overdue.

Other than a Week Two contest in Shreveport against Grambling, the 2022 slate is sadly devoid of an intense rivalry. That McNeese game? Gone, courtesy of a shoddy job of scheduling by the Southland Conference office as it hustled to shoehorn late-comer Lamar back into the league in mid-summer. NSU and McNeese will play again in 2023, but 70 consecutive seasons of rivalry got discarded with disregard for the 2022 seniors, for the fans and for the history books. Rivalries and tradition make sports fun. The Southland just sucked the fun out of NSU’s schedule, not to mention a very attractive home game.

But, Laird will tell you, play on. His team is eager to demonstrate it’s a new day in DemonLand. It’s impossible for outsiders to have any good read on the prospects, but it was encouraging to hear Laird and players saying that NSU has strong competition throughout at least the two-deep chart, at all positions.

If that bears out, and NSU can get by the G-Men and not get mashed at Montana and Southern Mississippi in the first three weeks, the Sept. 24 Southland opener at home against Lamar could be the start of something big – or at least, better.






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