Demons’ frenetic pace, intensity mark first full contact spring workout
NATCHITOCHES – Five practices into the makeover of the Northwestern State football program, it’s easy to understand why the Demon coaching staff immediately adopted the Twitter hashtag #SpeedDemons.
Saturday morning, as NSU went through its first practice in full pads under new head coach Brad Laird and coordinators Brad Smiley and Mike Lucas, the frenetic pace and efficiency was striking.
In the stands at Turpin Stadium, a pair of royal Demons who came to play for Harry Turpin in 1948, Johnny Emmons and Dan Poole, were impressed. On the field, coaches and players maximized the 1:45-long practice which carried NSU one-third of the way through its 15 spring workouts.
One Demon defender has seen it for the past two years. Junior linebacker Blake Stephenson transferred in January from Trinity Valley (Texas) Community College, where Smiley, NSU’s new offensive coordinator was the head coach.
“It’s fast. You have to get the calls in, get lined up. Communication is key considering how fast they move,” he said about the Demon offense.
Senior offensive lineman Frank Boudreaux is enjoying the pedal-to-the-metal approach.
“It’s a little challenging, but it’s been fun, for the most part. Every team in America runs inside zone, power, outside zone. It’s just different terminology and adjusting to what the coaches want,” he said.
“We have some improvement but we’re not where we need to be yet. We’re still getting used to the tempo both offensively and defensively, and that will get smoother and smoother as we have more practices,” said Boudreaux. “We have 10 left and we have to make the most of them.”
Smiley, head coach at TVCC for the past 11 years while the Cardinals set national junior college offensive records, has been gratified at the approach by the players.
“I’ve been really impressed with the kids. They have a great attitude. These guys are hungry. They want to have fun, they want to be successful. They are excited about the opportunities every day.
“The transition has been really smooth, because they show up every day ready to work and ready to soak it up. Because of their attitude, the way they’ve attacked this whole thing, it’s been a lot of fun,” he said.
Offensive line coach J Pond, who spent seven seasons with Smiley at Trinity Valley, is pleased with the progress.
“We’ve grown up a lot, from our first practice to now, and it’s been impressive,” said the former Texas A&M offensive lineman. “I’m very excited to see how we’ll end up. I’m very impressed with a lot of guys who are really buying in. Our young guys are doing well, and we’ve got a shot to be something special.”
Head coach Brad Laird ramped up the intensity at the outset of Saturday’s practice by running the “Championship Circle” tackling drill.
“Boy, that got everybody juiced up, ready to roll,” said Smiley, who said pulling on full gear provided the most basic additional conditioning.
“In the first opportunity being tackled, getting back off the ground, especially when you’re tempoed up, you have to get lined up and it’s a little extra on a workout, like doing an up-down every single time,” he said. “Getting a chance to work on open-field blocking was good.”
Lucas, NSU’s defensive coordinator when the Purple Swarm forced 30 turnovers in 2014, said getting to play tackle football for the first time was a beneficial step in the defense’s development.
“We’re trying to teach them how to run to the football in a new scheme. We have some guys who are picking it up, and some who we have to work with,” he said. “I like our schedule, practicing Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday, which gives us a lot of meeting time to teach.
“Today I was really impressed with how hard the running backs ran. It’s tough on those defenders, when you’re playing two hands below for four days, and then you’re out there playing live. We’ve got to get better. We’ve got to be physical tacklers, run to the ball and gang tackle,” said Lucas.
The Demons will resume practice Tuesday morning at 6, then have the first major scrimmage of spring ball slated Thursday evening at 7 before departing for spring break.
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