Northwestern State Football Preview

Entering its second season under coach Brad Laird, Northwestern State attempts to move up in the Southland Conference standings.

Laird guided the Demons to a 4-7 record, including a 4-5 conference mark, in his first season at the helm. A former NSU quarterback, Laird is relying on 12 returning starters (5 offense, 6 defense, 1 specialist) as the Demons pursue their first winning season since 2008.

Northwestern ranked in the middle of the SLC pack in every major offensive statistical category last season, finishing sixth in scoring (22.7 points per game), seventh in rushing (144.9 yards per game), fifth in passing (219.3 ypg) and seventh in total offense (364.2 ypg). The Demons' negative-7 turnover margin was ninth in the 11-team league.

Inserted as the starting quarterback for the final six games, senior Clay Holgorsen completed 109-of-190 passes for 1,240 yards, nine touchdowns and six interceptions while directing the Demons to a 3-3 record. Holgorsen is being challenged by junior Shelton Eppler, who played for new offensive quarterback Brad Smiley at Trinity Valley (Texas) Community College.

Junior Jared West (63 carries, 326 yards 5 TDs; 14 receptions, 152 yards) and sophomore Stadford Anderson (52-207-1 in 9 games) are the top returning ball carriers. Also in the mix at running back is sophomore Da'Von Smith, who sat out the 2017 campaign with a torn ACL after being redshirted in 2016.

Senior holdovers Jaylen Watson (31 receptions, 484 yards, 4 TDs) and Marquisian Chapman (31-314-3) are joined by senior Bryson Bourque (14-147-1) and junior Jazz Ferguson at the wide receivers. Rated as a four-star recruit out of West Feliciana High School, Ferguson redshirted last season as a transfer from LSU.

Senior Kalen Meggs and junior Charles Vaughn are the tight ends.

Senior left guard Frank Boudreaux is being counted on to lead a reworked offensive line after starting all 11 games at left tackle. Senior Timmis Bonner slides over to right guard after drawing seven starts at center. Sophomore Jonathan Hubbard is the new left tackle after starting six games at various spots. Junior Dustin Burns has claimed the starting center job after opening the final three games last fall. Right tackle Khalil Corbett-Canada, a sophomore transfer from Trinity Valley is the only true newcomer in the group.

NSU is looking for an upgrade defensively after ranking ninth in the SLC in scoring (31.4 ppg), sixth against the run (174.6 ypg), 10th against the pass (265.7 ypg) and eighth in total defense (440.4 ypg).

Senior end Obi Iheoma (34 tackles, 11 tackles for loss, 8 sacks) and senior tackle Zak Krolczyk (40 tackles, 8.5 TFL, 5 sacks) are disruptive forces up front. Junior Christian Bluiett (26 tackles, 2 TFL) and senior Jalon Sangster (22 tackles, 5 TFL, 1 sack) are proven forces at nose tackle. Junior Desmond Prejean is projected to start opposite Iheoma at the other end.

First-year starters will man both linebacker posts as sophomore Isaiah Longino (18 tackles, 1 sack) and junior Trinity Valley transfer Blake Stephenson move into the starting lineup.

Junior Ronald Malbrough is listed as the starting strong safety.

Manning the corners are seniors Dylan Wilson (17 tackles) and Rashaun Croney (14 tackles, 1 FF). Croney started the first seven games before being sidelined with a hamstring injury.

Ryan Reed (69 tackles, 2 TFL, 2 FF), the team's top returning tackler, is the rover while junior Nicholas Forde (28 tackles, 2.5 TFL, 1 INT) is the free safety.

Sophomore Austyn Fendrick is in charge of the kicking.

Junior Parker Pastorello is back to handle the punting after averaging 38.4 yards on 53 attempts, 16 of which were downed inside the 20.

Sophomore Hayden Bourgeois returned 10 punts for an 11.2-yard average. Redshirt freshman Myles Ward is expected to return punts.

———

NORTHWESTERN STATE SCHEDULE

DATE OPPONENT TIME

Aug. 30 at Texas A&M 7:30

Sept. 8 Grambling 6:00

Sept. 15 at Lamar* 6:00

Sept. 29 at Southeastern* 7:00

Oct. 6 Nicholls State* 6:00

Oct. 13 Sam Houston* 6:00

Oct. 20 at Central Arkansas* 6:00

Oct. 27 Houston Baptist* 6:00

Nov. 3 at Abilene Christian* 2:30

Nov. 10 McNeese* 6:00

Nov. 15 at Stephen F. Austin* 6:00