Blake Stephenson’s Northwestern State football career ended this past spring, but there is more than a little part of the former All-Southland Conference linebacker remaining in the Demon program.
That is because Race Moser fittingly is still wearing Purple and White. With two years between them in school, Stephenson provided a blueprint for Moser’s football career. From their time as teammates at Deer Park High School, wherever Stephenson went, Moser followed.
“It kind of just happened,” said Moser, who will help lead Northwestern State into Saturday’s 3 p.m. Homecoming matchup with visiting Southeastern. “The same thing happened to him out of Deer Park. He went JUCO. The same thing happened to me. He told the coaches at Trinity Valley (Community College) about me, and they liked me. The same thing happened here. He’s always had my back, and I’ll always be grateful for him.”
Stepping into Stephenson’s role as one of the inside linebackers in the Demons’ 3-4 scheme, Moser has filled in seamlessly. Through six games, Moser stands fourth on the team in tackles (27) after recording seven stops this past Saturday against McNeese.
That outing left Moser one tackle shy of equaling his career best eight-tackle effort in the season opener at North Texas on Sept. 4.
While there are a lot of similarities between Moser, who blossomed into an All-American linebacker at Trinity Valley, and Stephenson, a former All-Southland Conference selection, in terms of playing style, NSU defensive coordinator and linebackers coach Mike Lucas said there are differences in the two as well.
“Race is pretty quiet,” Lucas said. “Blake would kind of get after everybody. As far as their communication with other players, Blake would get in there and mix it up whereas Race is very quiet.”
The on-field similarities between the two linebackers were built across their prep and junior college days. With Moser in the fold, there are times where it feels like Stephenson never left.
That extends to the depth in which Stephenson remains involved on Saturdays.
“I watch every game, and I sit there and get (mad) if something bad happens, like I would if I was still playing,” Stephenson said. “(Moser) plays hard. He plays exactly how we were brought up to play, like our linebackers coach in high school taught us. Coach (Jeff) Edwards always instilled high intensity and high effort. He told us, ‘You may not be the fastest or the strongest, but play your butt off.’ He’s one of the big reasons why we were here and why we followed the same path and are basically the same player.”
The respect forged from that shared time at Deer Park and later at Northwestern State flows both ways in what both Moser and Stephenson liken to a brotherly bond.
“We text almost every day, and he’s asking about the Demons and the defense,” Moser said. “He’s always critiquing what I can do better. I’m always asking him what he thought about this play or that play. It’s like he’s still here.”
The two shared characteristics on the field and even some that extend past the gridiron.
“They’re the same player, they came from the same place, and they kind of look alike,” Lucas said. “They’re both great kids. They’re great in the classroom, really students of the game. They’re really great young men. We’re happy to have had them.”
With similar on- and off-field traits between them, it is little wonder Moser and Stephenson built a brotherly bond.
“He’s always been my big brother,” said Moser, who has one biological brother, Chance. “If I needed something, he’s been there for me. I truly love him like a brother. I’ll always appreciate everything he’s done for me.”
Added Stephenson: “I have a younger brother, but he’s one of my three brothers. When we played together, if I was on the field, he was excited for me. If he was on the field, I was excited for him. I love him like a little brother. I want to see him succeed. It’s awesome to see someone you care about walking the same path as you and do just as good or better. I love to see it.”
Photo: Chris Reich/NSU Photographic Services