One look at the classifications of the Northwestern State football team’s cornerbacks may lead one to believe the Demons lack experience.
With the possibility of true sophomores Shemar Bartholomew and William Hooper standing atop the depth chart when the Demons open their 2019 season Aug. 29 at UT Martin, it would seem NSU is short on a veteran presence on the outside of its defensive backfield.
That assumption would be far from true.
“That group is loaded,” associate head coach/defensive backs coach De’Von Lockett said. “Six of the nine guys in that group have played in games here. We’re probably four deep at the position. You have a freshman, Kunta Hester, who’s been taking reps with the ones and twos. Isaiah Armstrong, a transfer from BYU, has been taking reps with the ones and twos. We’ve been switching them up, trying to figure out what kind of competition we have in that room. I want to see competition. I want to see who is going to go out and compete daily.”
Bartholomew (6-foot, 190) and Hooper (5-11, 180) both appeared in at least seven games as freshmen in 2018.
Bartholomew, in particular, made a strong first impression, collecting 14 tackles, one sack and a pair of interceptions – both of which came against Sam Houston State in just his second career game.
“It was a learning experience,” Bartholomew said of stepping into a large role as a true freshman. “I had to take on a bigger role, and I played it the best I could for the team. D-Will (Dylan Wilson), Malik Sonnier and (Rashaun) Croney taught me how to play the technique. This is only my third year playing corner, so I have to learn and adapt.”
Bartholomew and Hooper are joined by seniors Wilson and D’Ronne Littleton and Sonnier, a junior, as current Demons corners who have started games in their Northwestern State careers.
In addition to Hester, a freshman from New Orleans John Ehret High School, the Demons added Armstrong, a 6-2 graduate transfer from BYU, to the cornerback rotation. Northwestern State also has sophomores Trey Williams and Keldrick Ward, redshirt freshmen Fred Lee and Tobias Williams as well as true freshman Tyson Ford competing for playing time.
“We’re a very talented group,” Bartholomew said. “We have guys who can start over me, guys who could start over William Hooper on the other side. We’re strong as whole. I believe it’s the best group we’ve had here in years.”
Armstrong joined the Demons shortly before fall camp began, reuniting with former BYU teammate Akile Davis, a wide receiver, as graduate transfers to Northwestern State.
Armstrong blended in seamlessly with his new teammates and gives Lockett another lanky corner to deploy against pass-happy opponents.
“The guys I’m competing with were, honestly, better than I expected,” Armstrong said. “Hoop and Shemar have been doing a great job. They’re pushing me to be the best player I can be. We have good receivers we go against. They keep us on our toes.”
That competitive spirit extends to the cornerbacks as a whole.
“You can’t slip up, because the next guy’s going to step in and make that play,” Armstrong said. “You have to make sure you do everything right so the guy behind you doesn’t jump you.”
The competitive nature, along with his group’s skill set, has Lockett excited to see what his corners can do in 2019.
“We preach creating turnovers and making plays,” Lockett said. “We’re going to be solid tacklers, but at the end of the day, we want those turnovers. We want to lead the conference in turnovers.”
Photo Credit: Chris Reich/NSU Photographic Services