After last year’s turnaround season, they brought back aspirations of a championship season, perhaps even the kind of year that dates back to the days when Varnado’s doors opened for the first time.
That was 1939, when the Demon football team posted a perfect 11-0 record. That’s one of three major anniversaries to be commemorated during the 2014 season, along with the 10th-year anniversary of the 2004 Southland Conference championship NSU squad and the 30th anniversary of the 1984 Gulf Star Conference champs.
“I think I speak for the whole team when I say we have high expectations. We have great players, we have great coaches, and we want to get a Southland Conference championship,” said sophomore guard Terrance Boyd, who was a parttime starter last year as the Demons won three of their last four games and finished 6-6, their best mark since 2008. “We were happy with last year, but we thought we could have done a lot better, and we’re not the type players to get complacent. We want to do better and better and that would mean a Southland Conference championship.”
A heavy early afternoon thunderstorm greeted early arrivals to the dorm, with a thick blanket of humidity interrupting the cool weekend weather. Players and coaches anticipate typically hot August conditions when practice begins Tuesday after a series of meetings Sunday night, Monday and Tuesday morning.
“Summer basically ends today, but it’s worth it,” said Boyd. “We all love what we do, especially playing football. Not a lot of people are able to do this, so we love every minute of it. We’re happy to get back into pads later this week, back to the grind.”
After three weeks living in Varnado, once classes begin at Northwestern, the team will scatter to other dorms and apartments on and off campus as the Aug. 28 season opener approaches in Turpin Stadium against Missouri State. But Boyd and other veterans who spent preseason in Varnado last August, at the behest of then first-year coach Jay Thomas, are happy to share close quarters this month.
“All the players and coaches are living in one spot, so we’re around each other a lot more than during the rest of the year. After practice, at night, some of the coaches may be playing cards with the players, doing things that help us develop a bond.
“That’s why we do this, to build team unity,” said Thomas. “The freshmen get to know the older guys, and the older guys can give them guidance they need in their first time away from home, not just as far as football is concerned. This is where a lot of good things get started, not only for this season but for their college careers and their lives going forward.”
The short-term goals for the Demons, said Thomas, are simple, and attainable because this year, the veterans know what’s expected from the coaching staff.
“We want to pick up where we left off in the spring. We had a really, really good spring training. The second year in our system, the players understood how we wanted things done in the spring, and in this camp, it should be a lot easier as well. I expect things to roll a lot smoother and we’ll take it one day at a time, have fun, enjoy one another and get better,” he said.
Senior linebacker Tyler Roussel said there was grumbling at first last August, but by the time game week arrived, players already knew the value of a true “camp” experience spent in Varnado.
“Instead of going home after practice, we were eating together, coming back to the dorm to hang out and bond, not just the players but the coaching staff. When that first game starts you’re going to face a bad moment at some point, but being bonded so closely as a unit, we were able to pull through better than in past years. That showed at Missouri State and it benefitted us throughout the season,” said Roussel.
The Demons came from behind on the road in the second half for a season-opening 23-17 win at Missouri State. They also had their best November showing since 2004.
“We felt like we could have kept playing for another month,” said Thomas. “All that traced back to work we put in and experiences we had in August camp.”