NATCHITOCHES – A quick glance at the Northwestern State safety depth chart will readily reveal several things.
The safeties are arguably the most experienced unit on the Northwestern State football team – four of the five players listed on the two-deep are seniors.
The only non-senior? Junior Hayden Bourgeois, an all-conference and all-state selection who was picked to the Hero Sports Sophomore All-American team.
Defensive backs coach De’Von Lockett said the wealth of experience is a welcome sign.
“It’s been absolutely wonderful to have the depth and experience at this position,” said Lockett, who is beginning his 10th season on the NSU staff. “We have so much talent at the position that it’s hard to get guys reps.
“But it makes them understand that every rep counts, and we’re taking advantage of every rep we do.”
Bourgeois made his name as a playmaker with his ability to force turnovers. He had a hand in seven turnovers (five interceptions and two fumble recoveries), which ranked third nationally in combined takeaways.
“That’s just part of the Purple Swarm, swarming to the ball 100 percent on every play,” said Bourgeois, a Crowley native, who also blocked a kick. “I’m at the right place at the right time.
“Studying film during the week helps you because you know what’s going to happen presnap. But instinct also plays a big role.”
Bourgeois wasn’t alone in his turnover prowess.
NSU safeties had a hand in nine of the team’s 13 interceptions and four of the Demons 13 fumbles forced or recovered.
Senior Ryan Reed intercepted two passes this past season and ranked third on the team in tackles with 79 (Bourgeois led with 82).
“You can see the experience clicking in camp,” said Reed, a three-time Southland Conference All-Academic pick who already has a degree. “We’re still making mistakes, but we’re learning and trying to get one percent better every day.
“Competition is everywhere at safety and cornerback, and (Lockett) switches up the depth chart to make sure we can play alongside anybody in case of injury. We don’t have ones and twos, we really have 1A, 1B and 1C because we have three people who can start at every position.”
Demons who will see plenty of action even if they aren’t every-day starters include seniors Nick Forde, Ian Edwards and Kevin Ratliff.
Forde has started at least seven games in each of the last three seasons, including recording an interception and a forced fumble in 2018.
Edwards has 54 tackles 19 career appearances in his three seasons, including a forced fumble this past season.
Ratliff made 21 tackles and an interception in nine appearances this past season after redshirting in 2017 following a transfer from
The defense could primarily play two safeties this season after having three on the field for the majority of 2018.
But Lockett said the veterans will get on the field in a variety of ways.
“Our competition is daily, and everybody’s job is on the line every day,” Lockett said. “It’s hard to get all of our guys on the field, but the good thing is we have different packages so a lot of guys can play and get reps.
“(Edwards) has been outstanding, and he’s showing up more on tackles and pass breakups. (Ratliff) is a hustler, and he’s probably led our practices five times with the most strip attempts and scoops. He’s always around the ball.”