Four transfers and a baseball outfielder transitioning to wide receiver are bolstering Northwestern State’s depth chart heading into the Demons’ first major scrimmage of preseason football camp.
Saturday’s competition should begin about 8:45 in Turpin Stadium. It’s a key evaluation tool wrapping up the second week of practices, with five more planned next week heading into the final major scrimmage next Saturday and the end of camp. Classes begin Monday, Aug. 21. NSU’s season kicks off Sept. 2 at Louisiana Tech.
Thursday, heavy rain and thunderstorms postponed the regular 8 a.m. practice until shortly before sunset in Natchitoches, with the Demons going through a 7:30 p.m. workout. The team will return to its normal morning session on Friday.
Among the 105 players in camp, four transfers and Demons junior outfielder Kwan Adkins are getting their initial exposure to NSU’s schemes and staff, not having participated in spring practice. Cornerback Rashaun Croney (6-0, 170), safety Kevin Ratliff (6-0, 197), defensive tackle Keith Ford (6-2, 290) and offensive lineman Tyler Rapp (6-1, 288) are finding their fits in positions of need, said head coach Jay Thomas.
“You want them to compete for starting positions and at least create depth at positions where you may have a deficiency. You try to get a little older guys who have played some college football, so there’s not as much culture change as there can be for a high school player,” he said.
“We’re looking forward to Saturday, when we will get some live work in, to get the best picture of where these guys are in their development,” said Thomas. “We like what we’ve seen.”
Ford, who committed last March, arrived midweek after completing classwork at Orange Coast (Cal.) College, where he had 31 tackles in 14 games. An All-State prep player in South Carolina, he initially signed with reigning FCS champion James Madison, and redshirted there in his true freshman season.
“As we found out last year, you can never have enough good hands in the interior of the defensive line,” said Thomas. “With the Southland Conference being as physical as it is, he’s an excellent addition. He has the potential to be really good for us.”
Croney intercepted eight passes last season, helping Garden City (Kan.) Community College win the junior college national championship after a standout high school career at Pahokee, Fla.-Everglades Prep. He has shined in camp, pushing starters D’Ronne Littleton and Ike Warren, said Thomas.
“A very good addition to our cornerbacks. He’s making a name for himself. So far he’s leading in pass breakups and interceptions in camp, showing a great knack for the ball,” said Thomas. “He has tremendous speed, is a really good guy who plays the game and works at it, and has great upside.”
Ratliff, a product of Canton, Miss., was first-team All Mississippi Association of Community and Junior Colleges last season at Hinds CC, making 75 tackles. He was part of Canton High’s state championship track and field team.
“He’s a very physical player around the box, a really good tackler in junior college who can run.
He’s really picked up our scheme well,” said Thomas.
Rapp, a transfer from Air Force, spent two years in Colorado Springs, lettering last year. Demon junior defensive end Zak Krolcyzk, a high school friend of Rapp’s, helped connect The Woodlands, Texas, product with NSU.
“He comes from a triple option offense at Air Force, so he’s still learning our concepts, but he has a tremendous work ethic, like you’d expect from a guy coming from the Academy. He doesn’t say a word, but leads by actions,” said Thomas. “He’s getting better and better every day and has been rotating in with the ones, so that tells you how he’s doing.”
Atkins (6-2, 202) has both the easiest and most severe transition among the five newcomers. He has spent three years next door at Brown-Stroud Field after being unsuccessfully courted to play in Turpin Stadium out of Brusly High School, where he was All-State Class 3A honorable mention as a defensive back.
“Especially for somebody who hasn’t played football in three years, the transition has been pretty smooth, which is a tribute to his ability, intelligence and work ethic,” said Thomas. “A first-class guy, tremendous athlete. He’s starting to settle in and has already shown he can be a big addition at receiver.”
NSU also added a summer pickup from the high school ranks, Gasden (Ala.) City defensive tackle Damian Thompson (6-0, 305). He was a Class 7A All-State selection last year after making 88 tackles.