MISSOULA, Montana – As he prepared his Northwestern State football team for Saturday’s season opener at No. 2-ranked Montana, fifth-year head coach Brad Laird had a simple three-word mantra he repeated.
“Win the trip.”
Those three words and what they mean echoed in the Demons’ ears as they headed northwest to Washington-Grizzly Stadium for the first time in 18 years. Northwestern State and the second-ranked Grizzlies square off at 2 p.m. Central Daylight Time on Saturday, meeting for the first time since NSU made the long trek west in 2004 for what was then known as the Division I-AA Playoffs.
“That’s one thing that tends to get overlooked,” Laird said. “We work so hard on the Xs and Os, but there are so many other dynamics that go into a road trip – when we get on the bus to go to Alexandria to get on the plane. As you look through those two to three days, there are a lot of things we have to get accomplished before we play on Saturday. It will be important that we do a great job of handling the trip, being mature in what we need to get done prior to kickoff.”
Saturday’s game can be seen on ESPN+ and heard through the Northwestern State Athletics mobile app, which is free to download to Apple and Android devices, and on http://www.NSUDemons.com.
Laird’s mantra has trickled down to the Demons, who arrived in Big Sky country Thursday afternoon.
“It means just being professional throughout the trip, not just during the game,” wide receiver Jaren Mitchell said. “Be on time and ready to leave. Study your notes. Take your time to yourself to recover. Just handle your business.”
Mitchell is more familiar with the Grizzlies than any other Demon player, having faced Montana while he was a receiver at Northern Colorado.
Like many players, Mitchell doesn’t need any additional motivation for a Week 1 game, especially after a month of preseason practice.
“Their ranking speaks for itself,” he said. “They’re a very disciplined team in all three phases. They’re going to come out and do what they’re coached to do and what they’re capable of doing.
“I’m very excited for the matchup. I feel we’ll match up pretty well against them. I’m tired of seeing our defense, and I’m excited to face off against another opponent.”
The Demons enter Laird’s fifth season but first with new coordinators on both sides of the ball.
Those additions – along with approximately 30 new players – have brought renewed energy to NSU as it enters the 2022 season.
“The thing I’ve been most proud of is the 50-plus players who have been here – some the past three, four five years – how they’ve helped mold the coaches and players together,” Laird said. “It’s been fun to watch. Our guys have done a great job of building the chemistry that’s going to make us successful this year.”
That energy has been palpable throughout preseason camp.
“The guys are amped up,” senior linebacker Race Moser said. “From previous years, we weren’t winning, so it was hard to buy into the same system. Now, with both coordinators and their systems, guys bought into them. It clicked. Guys saw the success. What I’m most excited about for Montana is good things are going to happen and bad things will, too, but we’ll be able to bounce back from the bad plays.”
Photo: Chris Reich/NSU Photographic Services
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