The Northwestern State football team has to replace a productive senior class of 2019, one that included a record-setting quarterback and four-year starters along the offensive line and in the defensive backfield.
That process kicks into gear Thursday at 3:45 p.m. when the Demons hold the first of 15 spring practices inside Turpin Stadium.
“When you start back in January, you’re gearing yourself up for the 2020 season, but there are phases you go through,” said Brad Laird, whose third season at the helm of his alma mater begins Sept. 3 when Northwestern State hosts Incarnate Word.
“The phase we start Thursday, spring practice, is always an exciting time. You’ve been through the offseason, and now you get to get out there and play some football and see what this team is all about. That is what excites us as a coaching staff and players. The players work so hard during the offseason to go out and put a football in their hands and play and practice for the next 15 days.”
The Demons’ spring schedule starts with a 22-period practice Thursday and runs through the 31st annual Joe Delaney Bowl at 12 p.m. March 21. The Demons will hold two spring scrimmages – at 10 a.m. March 7 and 14.
Among the 22 seniors who must be replaced are quarterback Shelton Eppler, who rewrote most of Northwestern State’s single-season and career passing records in his two seasons as a Demon, 100-catch receiver Quan Shorts, standout offensive linemen Dustin Burns, Jonathan Hubbard and Chris Zirkle and defensive backfield staples Nick Forde and Ryan Reed.
“It’s always exciting when you have competition,” Laird said. “One of our goals as a coaching staff is to identify who the starters are, identify the depth, identify the guys we can count on to play significant snaps. I’m excited about the three (quarterbacks) who will battle for that spot. Will we get everything answered in those 15 practices? That’s yet to be determined. We’ll see where we are after Day 1 going into Day 2 just like we’ll see where we are after practice 15 going into the summer.”
Thursday marks the first time Laird and his staff will see several of their 2020 signees in action as mid-year junior college signees have been on campus since classes resumed in January.
“It’s a combination of some of those older guys we brought in after we identified our needs combined with guys who may have been waiting in the background for a couple of years who will get that opportunity to showcase what they can do,” Laird said. “They should have the opportunity to play. That’s what we look forward to, guys who will step up in all three phases.
“We’ve talked offensively, and we’ve talked defensively, but who are the guys who will step up on special teams? We’ve got to find 11 guys for each special teams unit that will win football games for us. We’ll look at that very hard this spring. After reflecting on the 2019 season, we have to be better on special teams. We are going to be the most physical team. We have to be physical on both sides of the ball and on special teams. We need to find who will be physical when it’s fourth-and-1 or third-and-2. Who can we count on to make plays?”
2020 Spring Football Schedule – Date Time
Feb. 27 3:45 p.m.
Feb. 28 2:45 p.m.
Feb. 29 10 a.m.
March 3 3:45 p.m.
March 5 3:45 p.m.
March 6 2:45 p.m.
March 7 10 a.m. (Scrimmage 1)
March 10 3:45 p.m.
March 12 3:45 p.m.
March 13 2:45 p.m.
March 14 10 a.m. (Scrimmage 2)
March 17 3:45 p.m.
March 19 3:45 p.m.
March 20 2:45 p.m.
March 21 12 p.m. (31st annual Joe Delaney Bowl)
Photo Credit: Chris Reich/NSU Photographic Services