- Ronald Oswalt
NATCHITOCHES – In many ways, Northwestern State’s defensive line may best have served as a microcosm of the Demons’ 2018 football season.
Northwestern State won three of its final four games a year ago, mirroring a similar surge up front from a group led by defensive tackle O’Shea Jackson and nose tackle Damian Thompson.
Jackson, who arrived on NSU’s campus just before the 2018 season opener at Texas A&M, led the Demons with 10.5 tackles for loss while Thompson started much of the second half of the season, finishing the season with six tackles for loss and a pair of sacks.
“O’Shea and DT (Thompson) had a really good finish last year,” second-year defensive line coach Ledell Love said. “O’Shea had a great summer. He got himself in shape, became a leader and got ready to play as much as we need him. DT dropped 15 pounds and is in the best shape he has been since he got here. Those two are ready to lead the unit.
“We lost two good ones in Krolo (Zak Krolczyk) and (Jalon) Sangster, but we have a bunch of guys poised to step up and make some noise for themselves.”
Krolczyk’s loss arguably will be felt more than Sangster’s as the latter missed most of the second half of the 2018 season because of injuries, allowing Thompson and then-freshman Nathalohn Nanai to accumulate quality reps in game action.
While Nanai and fellow true freshman Joey McNeely saw some game action a year ago, the newcomers in NSU’s fall camp this season have enjoyed the benefits of the first three days of split practices.
“Johnathan Daigle, JaQuan Jackson and Jabralen Yarber have all come in this year,” Love said. “These split practices are giving them great, quality reps where we can evaluate them more in depth.”
It also helps Love’s group develop quality depth behind a projected depth chart that has Jackson and Thompson up front along with junior transfer Darius Whitfield, who joined the Demons in the spring from South Alabama.
Whitfield’s college career also included stops at South Carolina and at Southwest Mississippi Community College, giving him a veteran’s eye.
“The difference (here) is we pay attention to the little things,” Whitfield said. “The little things matter to me the most. It transfers to the field.”
If Whitfield’s off-the-field relationships transfer in the same way, the Demons defense will be even stronger. It did not take long for Whitfield and Thompson to hit it off based on their shared home state of Alabama.
“As soon as I got here, we hit it right off,” Whitfield said. “Damian is a hard worker. We’re from the same state, so I know he’s going to work hard.”
Whitfield joins the pair of returners up front, hoping to create the same chemistry Thompson and Jackson developed a season ago.
“I’m more of a run stopper, and he’s more of a rusher,” Thompson said of Jackson. “We blend together. If he pass rushes good, I make the sack. If I get up the field, he makes the TFL (tackle for loss).”
While Jackson led the Demons in tackles for loss a season ago, Love said he sees even greater things ahead from the Arlington, Texas, product.
“He sets the tone,” Love said. “He did what he’s supposed to do. He got his body right. He’s shown that senior leadership.
“He’s called guys out. He’s been good on the field, and now he’s taken the next step to be good off the field, holding himself and others accountable.”
- The Demons went through their first workouts in shells Thursday, going approximately 90 minutes in the morning with an afternoon workout set for approximately the same amount of time.
“The first day in shoulder pads always brings a little bit of excitement,” second-year head coach Brad Laird said. “We’re making mistakes in all three phases, but our guys are working hard and competing well. They understand it’s going to take a whole football team for us to be successful.”
- The Demons are scheduled to conclude their split-squad practices Saturday with workouts scheduled for 9:15 a.m. and 3:30 p.m. before beginning full-squad workouts Monday morning at 9:15.
Photo Credit: Chris Reich/NSU Photographic Services
Photos: Action shots from Friday’s practice of O’Shea Jackson (NSU 55) and Damian Thompson (NSU 98).