Paxton Cook didn’t get his undergraduate degree in history but he takes note of it.
Thursday evening when Cook, who graduated magna cum laude this summer, and his Northwestern State football teammates take the field at Turpin Stadium, the Demons will wear white helmets for the first time in 14 years.
It’s the second annual White Out Game for NSU, adding the new white headgear to a new set of white uniforms that typically are worn for road games. The Demons pulled on their new hats for the first time Sunday and had them on again Monday afternoon as coach Jay Thomas sent them through a two-hour workout getting ready for 19th-ranked, two-time defending Southland Conference champion Southeastern Louisiana.
“Like Coach T says, you look good, you feel good, and you’re going to play good,” said Cook, who is taking 12 hours this fall and preparing for physical therapy school. “Hopefully it brings us a little swagger, and a little good luck. You look back and that Demon 2001 team was pretty good in those white helmets.”
Led by LSU transfer Craig Nall at quarterback and future Pro Bowler Terrence McGee in the secondary and on returns, the 2001 Demons made a run into the FCS playoffs.
Cook, who graduated this summer with a 3.73 grade point average in health and exercise science, knows enough Demon history to see some parallels. There’s a 50-50 chance NSU will start a transfer quarterback, two (Stephen Rivers, Joel Blumenthal) competing for the job with Demon veterans J.D. Almond and Daniel Hazlewood. Last year’s AP All-America all-purpose player Ed Eagan, a senior receiver and returner, offers explosiveness reminiscent of McGee’s versatility.
The matchup against SLU is especially appealing for Cook, a 5-9, 220-pound starting middle linebacker who has lettered three times since leaving Baton Rouge-Parkview Baptist. The grind of preseason camp is done and the adrenaline is rapidly rising.
“It’s been a couple weeks since we started gearing up toward them. Thursday can’t get here soon enough,” he said. “They’re a very proven team. They have a lot of athletes and a winning culture now, and that’s something we have to counter by going out and answering their intensity with our own, and then some.”
Enhancements to the game day scene around and in Turpin Stadium are evident, with fresh paint, a new north endzone staircase down from the Presidential Tailgating Party hosted by new NSU leader Dr. Jim Henderson, and other improvements and initiatives including a new student tailgating area bordering the southeast corner of the stadium.
“We’re excited to see the changes going out at and around the stadium, as we speak,” said Cook. “I think the fans Thursday night will see a transformed stadium, and a transformed team, one that is very eager to take care of business Thursday and the rest of the season.
“The camaraderie on our team this year is better than it’s ever been. These guys are willing to fight for the guy next to them, and in the fourth quarter that’s going to be a factor,” he said. “We’ve paid attention to the details, and when Thursday comes, we’ll free our minds, free our feet, and play fast.”
Cook hopes the Purple Swarm defense will replicate last year’s production, when it ranked fifth nationally by forcing 30 turnovers. NSU will have eight new starters trying to slow the Lions.
“The biggest things we will rely on are our heart, and our speed. I think that will bring turnovers our way,” said Cook. “We have to tackle well. This will be the first time we tackle somebody in a different jersey and I think it will set a tone for the entire season, the way we tackle Thursday night.”
The Demons will go through a 2:30 practice Tuesday putting on the final touches of the game plans for the 6 p.m. Thursday game against SLU, the first conference opener pitting Southland foes in a season opening game since 1992.