One theme for the 2019 Northwestern State football team has been to start fast.
The Demons did just that Wednesday on the opening day of fall camp.
In the first of four days of split-squad workouts, Northwestern State hit the turf at Turpin Stadium several minutes ahead of its scheduled 9:15 a.m. start time, kicking off camp with a roughly 90-minute workout that blended veterans and newcomers.
“It’s a little different schedule, but that’s what coach (Brad) Laird and (offensive coordinator) coach (Brad) Smiley preach, starting fast,” senior running back Jared West said.
Wednesday’s morning session, which covered 16 periods of work, was conducted in shells, the same setup for the second half of the split-squad workouts, which began around 3:30.
It also marked the first time Laird and his staff – which remained fully intact from the 2018 season – were able to work fully with their 2019 squad. The majority of the team spent most of the month of July in Natchitoches, but NCAA rules limited coaches’ involvement in the offseason workouts.
While the Demons were ahead of a normal pace when camp opened, Wednesday’s official opening still whetted the NSU staff’s appetite to see their charges at full go.
“You’re able to go out on the field with them in OTAs,” Laird said. “You can’t have a football. Now we can get out and have a football with us. To be able to install in those OTAs is huge. We’ll continue to install and put more on them mentally, but the one thing that won’t change is attitude and effort.”
After a rainy Tuesday when the players reported to campus, Wednesday’s early session was beset by heat on the Turpin Stadium turf, something Laird said he welcomed in a sense.
“It was hot, but I thought our guys handled it well,” he said. “We’ve got to be locked in at the end when we are tired, and you can only do that by practicing it. We had that opportunity today to practice in that situation. Great attitude and great effort. They came out with the right attitude.”
That attitude was driven by a group that featured numerous veterans, including fifth-year seniors such as West, offensive linemen Chris Zirkle, Dustin Burns and Jonathan Hubbard as well as safeties Nick Forde and Ryan Reed.
The younger NSU veterans followed suit and echoed their older teammates after the first workout of camp, which runs through Aug. 17 before classes begin Aug. 19.
The Demons open the 2019 season Aug. 29 at UT Martin in a 6:30 p.m. kickoff. Northwestern State continues fall camp with three more days of split-squad workouts (9:15 a.m., 3:30 p.m.) before its first full-squad practice Monday.
“We’re starting off real fast,” junior defensive tackle Damian Thompson said. “(July) really helped us start fast. It really helped us bond, figure out each other and what we all need to work on.”