As a rule, assistant coach Alvin Slaughter is one of the more excitable members of the Northwestern State football staff.
That ebullience shows even more so when he begins to discuss the pair of veteran kick and punt returners the Demons will feature in 2019.
Myles Ward was an honorable mention HERO Sports Freshman All-American kick returner in his debut season of 2018 while Hayden Bourgeois flourished in his first season as the Demons’ primary punt returner.
“They are two dynamic athletes in the return game,” Slaughter said. “In addition to his athletic ability, (Hadyen’s) biggest attribute is his ability to secure the catch. He’s has the ability to break a big one, but he’s going to secure the catch and stay inside the schematic thigs we do.
“Myles Ward is one of the most explosive guys on this team. He took one to the house against SFA and was a big reason we won that game.”
Ward, a product of De La Salle High School in New Orleans, averaged 25.6 yards per return on 28 attempts as a redshirt freshman. His 94-yard touchdown return to start the second half sparked the Demons’ 35-23 win at Stephen F. Austin in the 2018 season finale.
The matchup with the Lumberjacks was one of two in which Ward averaged better than 30 yards per return after tallying 108 yards on three returns. The other came at Central Arkansas where he averaged 33 yards per try on three attempts.
Ward enters 2019 as a second-team preseason All-Southland Conference selection and someone Bourgeois says he can take something from in his return work.
“He takes it, finds a hole and hits it very fast,” Bourgeois said.
Slaughter described Bourgeois as a “steady Eddie” after his first season in the primary punt returner role. As a sophomore, Bourgeois returned 16 punts for 108 yards.
That came one season after returning 10 punts for 112 yards as a freshman. Those 10 attempts helped steel Bourgeois’ nerves after stepping into a high-pressure role as a redshirt freshman.
“It helped a lot,” Bourgeois said. “I was nervous because I hadn’t had the experience at the college level. Now, I feel more confident, and I feel better things are to come.”
While Ward and Bourgeois will “lead the charge” in the return game, according to Slaughter, they are far from the only return specialists the Demons have on the roster.
“Benaiah Franklin plays very fast,” Slaughter said. “He has some uniqueness to him as well. He has the ability to catch the ball and make a cut on a dim, to change direction. He’s fielding punts and kicks. Coby McGee, Ryan Reed and (D’Ronne) Littleton are pushing those guys who have been doing it a while. From a coaching standpoint, when you’re coaching great players who exemplify what you want them to in practice, you can’t wait to get to the game and see it all come together.”
For the return game, as in the other two phases of the game, it starts up front.
“I know my blockers are going to do a great job,” Bourgeois said. “That will make me comfortable.”
Slaughter echoed Bourgeois’ comments.
“They are probably the biggest part of the return game,” Slaughter said of the lead blockers. “As a returner myself, I understand once I get the ball or my guys get the ball, we hit a crease and go and, hopefully, we score based on making the right decision, but it starts up front with those guys sticking and staying on their blocks. Once the ball clears you, you work to the next level to make it come together. One guy may get the big explosive play and the recognition, but we know it takes 10 other guys to make it happen.”
Photo Credit: Chris Reich/NSU Photographic Services
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