College football: First-teamer Bourgeois leads four Demons on preseason All-SLC teams

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Chris Reich/NSU Photographic Services ... Junior safety Hayden Bourgeois leads four Demons who received preseason all-conference honors, nabbing a spot on the first team as a defensive back.

Jason Pugh, NSU Associate Athletic Director for Media Relations

NATCHITOCHES – The Northwestern State football team was well represented on the 2019 Preseason All-Southland Conference Teams, announced Thursday afternoon by the conference.

Junior safety Hayden Bourgeois led four Demons who received preseason all-conference honors, nabbing a spot on the first team as a defensive back. The teams were selected by a vote of the league’s 11 head coaches.

Senior offensive lineman Chris Zirkle, senior defensive lineman O’Shea Jackson, and sophomore kick returner Myles Ward earned second-team preseason acclaim.

“It’s great recognition for these young men,” second-year head coach Brad Laird said. “It’s recognition for what they did last year. We had other guys on this team who were worthy, and I’m looking forward to seeing what them and this team have to show in 2019.”

Bourgeois, a Crowley-Notre Dame product, was Northwestern State’s lone first-team selection following a season in which he produced seven turnovers (five interceptions, two fumble recoveries), a total that ranked third nationally. Bourgeois led Northwestern State with 83 tackles and his five interceptions led the Southland Conference and ranked eighth nationally.

“You hope the season he had last year was just the start of what’s to come from Hayden,” Laird said. “He has shown the ability to get better each and every day. I’m excited because of the recognition he got last year for what he did last year, but he would be the first to say that 2019 is different. We’re hoping to see bigger and better things from Hayden this year.”

Bourgeois was joined on the defensive side of the all-conference voting by Jackson.

Jackson picked up second-team preseason acclaim after leading Northwestern State in tackles for loss (10.5). A Trinity Valley Community College transfer, Jackson arrived in Natchitoches just ahead of NSU’s 2018 season opener at Texas A&M before making his presence felt.

He posted 3.5 sacks among his 10.5 tackles for loss and collected 49 total tackles and a blocked extra point that secured Northwestern State’s 49-48 win at FCS playoff participant Lamar in September.

“O’Shea really came on at the end of the year, and we saw it carry over into the spring,” Laird said. “He really has improved as a player and as a leader, a guy the others really look up to.”

Across the line, Zirkle collected second-team preseason honors after missing nearly all the 2018 season.

A 6-2, 287-pound League City, Texas, product, Zirkle played the final four games of the season, which allowed him to maintain a year of eligibility under the new NCAA redshirt guidelines. After returning against Houston Baptist on Oct. 27, Zirkle recorded at least 20 knockdown blocks in all four games, beginning with a season-high 30 against HBU.

“It’s good to have him back fully for year after only playing four games last year,” Laird said. “Now he’s had a spring and summer to get back to where he is. I’m excited to see how he attacks the 2019 season.”

Ward, a Harvey native and De La Salle High School alum, made an impact on special teams in his redshirt freshman season, averaging 25.6 yards per return on 28 attempts.

Included in that total was a 94-yard touchdown return to start the second half of Northwestern State’s season-finale victory at Stephen F. Austin, helping him earn preseason second-team All-SLC honors.

“You look at that game, that one single play turned that game around,” Laird said. “He showed the ability to be a game-changer on special teams last year. I’m really looking forward to seeing him improve as a returner and as a receiver.”

The Demons report to campus July 30 in advance of the Aug. 29 season opener at UT Martin. That game is set for a 6:30 p.m. kickoff in Martin, Tennessee.