NATCHITOCHES – In most years what transpired on the Turpin Stadium turf Wednesday afternoon and evening would be considered typical.
However, 2020 has been anything but typical, which is why more than 100 Northwestern State football players spent two-plus hours letting out months of pent-up feelings as they went through the first of 15 “fall ball” practices.
“It’s just good to be out here,” said third-year head coach Brad Laird. “The weather’s great. We have 110 guys who put a lot of focus and energy into day one. I’ve got to credit the players and coaches to have the opportunity to be out here doing what they love. It’s fall ball, but it’s not spring practice. It’s different.
“We’re used to practicing this time of year, but without competition on Saturday, it’s different, but you couldn’t tell that from our guys.”
The Demons went through 24 periods of workouts in soft shells, gathering as a group for a true practice for the first time since mid-March when the novel coronavirus/COVID-19 pandemic short-circuited college athletics.
Northwestern State players reported for fall camp Aug. 4 before learning their fall schedule would be postponed until the spring. The Demons and six other Southland Conference schools will play a six-game conference schedule from Feb. 20-April 10.
That date was on Laird’s mind when he told the team after the workout, “everything we do is to make sure we are the best football team on Feb. 20.” The Demons open the spring season that day at Lamar.
The seven-month layoff erased fall camp and left NSU in an uncertain position, but it took just one day of practice to rekindle the players’ emotions.
“It felt more like a spring practice, because we haven’t been out on the field for so long,” said senior linebacker Blake Stephenson. “It felt good to be back, competing with a lot of energy. All around it was a good day.”
Stephenson missed the first eight games of the 2019 season after undergoing shoulder surgery, something that prepared him to deal with the pandemic-induced lack of practice.
“I don’t take this game for granted anymore,” he said. “It’s a blessing to be out here competing. We’ve got a good group of guys out here who are ready to play a football game. We haven’t been able to practice, so it’s good to be out here.”
The Demons will return to practice Friday at 2 p.m. and hold their third workout Sunday at 2 p.m. inside Turpin Stadium.
Much like a typical spring practice, there will be scrimmages mixed in among the 15 workouts.
While Stephenson said Wednesday’s workout had the feel of spring practice, at least one Demon disagreed.
“It felt like a fall practice, like we were in season,” said junior receiver Coby McGee.
McGee added the Demons have taken a positive approach to their unique situation.
“It’s a challenge, but maybe it’s a blessing in disguise,” he said. “We see it through a good lens. We have a love for football and a love for each other. We’re not playing in the fall, but we’ll get an opportunity to play in the spring.”