Saturday night special for team-first focused Newman

When Chance Newman crossed the goal line for the first touchdown of his Northwestern State career this past Saturday, it led to a chorus of cheers as the Demons pulled even with Eastern Illinois.

There was at least one Demon fan, however, who may have been unaware of the significance of that 1-yard plunge over the left side of the NSU offensive line.

That fan is almost nine-month-old Lani Rae Newman, whose entrance into the world provided a new outlook and purpose for her father, who has traversed challenge after challenge in less than two seasons in Natchitoches.

“My biggest blessing – my daughter Lani,” Newman said. “She came into this world, and she’s changed it for me. She’s perfect. She’s everything I could have asked for. She’s given me a new perspective.

“I always made football my world. It’s changed my perspective and made me realize there’s more than football and school to life. I’ve been captivated by that my entire life. Up until the injuries the last couple of years, it’s been football, football, football. To sit back and look at it from a world view, there’s more. It’s given me a new motivation to compete and to do well on the field with my guys.”

Newman had every reason to question his motivation – and his luck – during his first season in Natchitoches.

A transfer from Jacksonville State, Newman arrived at NSU ahead of the 2022 season set to battle for the starting quarterback position. A concussion suffered in an automobile accident played a major role in keeping Newman off the field for the entirety of 2022.

Coincidentally, injuries elsewhere allowed Newman to showcase his versatility and his team-first attitude.

“We knew, as a staff, he’s one you want to get on the field, because, man, every day he shows up, goes to work and does his job,” sixth-year head coach Brad Laird said. “We went into the season with some injuries on the defensive side at the linebacker position, and we needed to find a guy to give us some depth and be productive on Saturdays. When we approached him about that, he said, ‘Let’s go. Let’s give it a shot. I want to do what’s best to help this team win.’

“This is the end of the summer, learning a position he’s never played. Worked his tail off, studied, and was able to go through fall camp. Once we got to that point, we had an injury at tight end, and we asked him to move back to tight end. He said, ‘Whatever’s best for the team.’ You appreciate that.”

The career path Newman had followed since fifth grade suddenly changed.

After spending most of his life as a quarterback, Newman suddenly was learning how to tackle as a linebacker. Then he had to learn how to block and catch after moving to tight end.

Newman’s athleticism and size – he stands 6-foot-2 and weighs 219 pounds – helped him adapt to both positions physically while his quarterback background allowed him to view the positions “through a different lens,” according to offensive coordinator Beau Blair.

Putting those elements together with a team-first attitude allowed Newman to make an impact before recording any statistics.

“I have made it a goal since January to soak in every moment, every workout, every time I’m in the locker room with the guys, every practice,” Newman said. “I’ve been able to really enjoy these moments more than I typically would going to a Tuesday practice or a Thursday morning weight session. It’s been an opportunity, and I’ve tried to soak it all in and enjoy all these moments.

“I’m trying to support everyone around me any way I can. I’m trying to do what’s best for the team with 100 percent of my ability. If that’s playing different positions, I’m open to doing that. It’s been an eye-opening experience. It’s been a learning curve, but it’s something I’m enjoying.”

That included the two snaps deep in the red zone Saturday night.

Once the Demons reached the Eastern Illinois 2-yard line, Newman raced in and took his first in-game snap at quarterback since the 2021 spring season at Jacksonville State.

Two plays later – both Newman rushes – he had his first touchdown in a Demon uniform, one he says he will remember for a lifetime.

Those challenges – along with the Jan. 13 arrival of Lani – made the moment all the more special for a grateful Newman.

“A lot of people probably didn’t realize what that meant,” Laird said. “That young man had gone through so much adversity.”