- Ronald Oswalt
NATCHITOCHES – Expectations and standards don’t change.
That’s the message Northwestern State receivers coach Alvin Slaughter is drilling into his group in fall camp as the Demons will attempt to replicate a successful passing attack without three of the top four pass catchers from 2018.
Departed receivers Jazz Ferguson (Seattle Seahawks signee), Jaylen Watson and Marquisian Chapman accumulated 2,270 receiving yards and 24 touchdowns in 2018, forming a large part of a core that helped NSU top 3,000 passing yards (3.530) for the first time in school history.
“I feel good about this group we have back,” Slaughter said. “Guys like Gavin Landry, Tanner Ash and Quan Shorts have had great leadership … and we talk constantly about not deviating from the standard.
“It’s a privilege to be around guys that want the same things I want from them. I’m blessed to have those leaders, and we’re having a great camp so far.”
Shorts produced from an inside receivers slot, catching 56 passes for 542 yards despite not getting to Natchitoches until late in the summer before the 2018 season.
The senior and former Texas Tech transfer had four games of at least 70 yards, and Shorts said he feels much more comfortable in his second year in the offensive system.
“This time last year, I had just gotten here, and it was really hard to adjust and learn the plays,” Shorts said. “I’m much closer with (quarterback Shelton Eppler) now after working all offseason, and it shows on the field.
“My teammates helped me a lot through that process, and I’m looking forward to this season because I’ll be so much better. This group has been great as well. Gavin Landry is having a great camp and can play inside and outside. Akile Davis is playing really well, and Jalen Willis is making great catches in camp.”
Shorts will help fellow transfers Akile Davis (BYU) and Benaiah Franklin (Purdue), who joined the team this offseason and are working feverishly to pick up the play book.
Davis, whom Shorts called a “very smart dude,” will be counted on to be an outside receiver option to help fill the shoes of Ferguson and Watson. Franklin has been working as an inside receiver.
“Quan has given me a lot of advice, helped me with plays and on the field,” Davis said. “I’ve been out here every day with Eppler and the other quarterbacks and receivers building chemistry and getting timing routes down.
“We’re bonding and clicking as one, so once we get into on-field situations, we’re not here thinking, we’re out here playing. We’ve got a lot of playmakers in this group both in the slot and on the outside, and when they snap the ball, we’ll be ready.”
Slaughter likes the tools and professionalism Davis brings.
“Akile comes in with tremendous athleticism and great ball skills, and he’s demonstrating things in camp that we need after losing (Ferguson and Watson),” Slaughter said of Davis, who played at BYU for three seasons and is a graduate transfer. “I’ve told him that I’m not comparing him to those guys, but it’s a blessing to know we have a guy in Davis that we can count on.
“Quan has been here and has produced, and Akile has shown that he can hold his weight and be counted on, too.”
Slaughter will be looking for guys like junior Landry, sophomores Myles Ward, Levar Gumms and Ash and redshirt freshman Jalen Willis to elevate into major playing roles.
“I’m looking for these guys to come into their own and be more consistent in what they do,” Slaughter said. “Can we put two and three great practices together?
“If I see something out of you one time, I’m going to demand it from you every time. That’s part of the culture we’re building here, and that culture breeds success.”
Gumms has had the most success of that group with 132 receiving yards and two touchdowns as a freshman in 2018 despite missing most of that camp.
• The Demons practiced in shells for about two hours Tuesday and will return to full pads Wednesday.
• NSU football coach Brad Laird harped on the improvement in pre-snap penalties, reducing Monday’s total of 10 to a Tuesday total of four.
• The Demons continued third-down work as well as other situational events as NSU prepares for its season-opener Aug. 29 at UT Martin.
• “We’re throwing some different things at them and changing the pace a little bit,” Laird said. “We’re still seeing some consistency and inconsistency with certain guys in certain situations, but we did get better with the mental penalties today.
“We’re still working to improve on our execution in all three phases.”
• Media Day is Wednesday at 11:30 a.m. in the NSU Fieldhouse (Stroud Room)
PHOTO CUTLINE: NSU senior Quan Shorts takes the leadership role as the Demons’ most experienced returning receiver, catching 56 passes for 542 yards in 2018.
CUTLINE 2: NSU sophomore and Shreveport native Tanner Ash catches a pass on the opening day of football practice this past week.
CREDIT: Chris Reich/NSU Photographic Services