NATCHITOCHES – Second-year head football coach Brad Laird talked about consistency at nearly every turn in July’s two-week long Northwestern State Victory Tour across Louisiana and Texas.
That word – along with chemistry and camaraderie -- again was on Laird’s mind when he spoke at NSU’s annual Fall Sports Media Day in the Steve and Lori Stroud Room on Wednesday afternoon.
“One of the coaches talked about consistency,” said Laird, whose team went through roughly a two-hour practice Wednesday morning. “Are we where we need to be? No, but we’re trying to put good days back to back, good plays back to back. We strive each and every day for that.”
Whenever the Demons find that consistency on the field, it will come, in part, because of the consistency atop each position group. Every full-time member of the Demons’ 2018 coaching staff returns in 2019 along with a handful of graduate assistant managers.
“In this day and age in college football, you don’t see a staff of full-time coaches that stay together,” Laird said. “You see a lot of movement. Northwestern State football is lucky to have the consistency within the coaching staff. What does that mean?
“Just like you see consistency with players, a coaching staff can be consistent. Our guys, starting with me, are hearing the same things over and over. They know what to expect, position to position, offensively, defensively and special teams.”
That consistent message has helped form a cohesive unit that had many of the 10 seniors who spoke during Wednesday’s media day echoing their coaches.
That, along with seeing the full group of 21 seniors gathered in the Stroud Room, was enough to bring defensive coordinator Mike Lucas’ emotions to the surface. Lucas was moved nearly to tears as he spoke about his 38th season coaching and his 25th as a member of a Southland Conference institution.
“I’m sitting at the table there crying like a baby, tears running down my face,” Lucas said. “I’m looking at these seniors over there, and there are guys I recruited when I was here in 2014 who have graduated.
“I sat down with Brice Borgeson in May when he graduated. I said, ‘Brice, I understand you have one year of eligibility left, but if you don’t want to come back – if you want to start your career – he sat in my office and started crying. He said, ‘Coach, I want to see this thing through. We’re going to win the championship this year. I can feel it.’ That’s the kind of guys we have over here.”
Of the 10 members of the senior class who spoke, three were offensive linemen – Dustin Burns, Tyler Rapp and Chris Zirkle.
Chemistry and camaraderie exist all across a football field, but arguably no bond is stronger than the one formed in close contact on either line.
With four seniors along the offensive line, there has been ample time for the group to cultivate its friendship.
“The camaraderie in the offensive line is probably the best on any football team across the country,” said Tyler Rapp, who has seen time at center and guard in his two seasons at Northwestern State. “We’re a unit. We’re brothers. We come to work ready to work, and no outside thing is going to make a difference in what we do.
“This is my third season here. I’ve seen a lot of guys come through here, and I can honestly say this is the most cohesive group we’ve had in my time here. I’m truly excited to go out and battle with my brothers. I’m so ready to get on the field and light some people up.”
Members of the offensive line said they want that group’s tight-knit bond to permeate throughout the 115-man roster.
“Everyone looks at us as the goofballs,” said Chris Zirkle, a preseason second-team All-Southland Conference selection and a nominee for the AFCA AllState Good Works Team. “We elevate other position groups. Say someone’s having a bad day, our personalities will bring them up, and vice versa. We have our bad days. Receivers, special teams, punters, whoever, will come help us out.”
The seeds of that have been sown.
Senior defensive tackle O’Shea Jackson arrived at Northwestern State less than a week before the 2018 season opener at Texas A&M yet saw action against the Aggies as what Lucas termed “a stranger to the team.”
A year later, Jackson not only is a leader – preferably by example – he is comfortable as a Demon.
“O’Shea says he doesn’t talk much,” Lucas said, “but he smiles an awful lot.”