Jason Pugh, Northwestern State Assistant Athletic Director for Media Relations
NATCHITOCHES – There is little more second-year coach Brad Laird wants than to start the 2019 season with a victory Thursday at UT Martin.
For Laird, however, picking up a season-opening win begins before the Demons hit the road for Thursday’s 6:30 p.m. kickoff, which airs on ESPN+.
“We have to win the trip,” Laird said. “What do I mean by win the trip? It starts at 6:30 Wednesday morning when we get them together for breakfast before we leave at 7:30. It’s making sure they are ready and have everything ready to go.”
Northwestern State grabbed a victory in its road finale a season ago, defeating Stephen F. Austin, 35-23, on Nov. 15. That victory bookended the Demons’ Southland Conference road schedule, which began with a thrilling 49-48 win at Lamar on Sept. 15.
“Winning the trip” begins with the 21-player senior class, a group Laird said actively made its case to be leaders on the field and inside the locker room.
“Two weeks ago, they came to me and said, as seniors, we want to step out and be the leaders of this team, and not just because we’re seniors,” Laird said. “They did it first by position groups, then offense and defense, then the whole team. This was senior led, not coaching led. They took it upon themselves to have a once-a-week meeting to say, ‘Here’s where we are. Here’s where we have to be better.’
“That’s important because they are our voice in the locker room. They’ve done a great job with their leadership over the last two weeks.”
While Laird’s “win the trip” mantra focuses on taking care of the little things – a longtime coaching adage – the genesis of the senior-driven leadership was much more recent.
Laird brought in speakers throughout fall camp to give the Demons “the same message from a different voice.” What they said hit home for the Demons’ seniors.
“(One of the speakers) said you need to figure out who you are as a team,” center Dustin Burns said. “He pointed to the seniors and said, ‘This is your last ride. You need to know what this team is and what it’s going to be.’ We decided to get up the next morning and figure out what that is.”