NATCHITOCHES —Northwestern State’s football team, with a new coaching staff, will have a new kicker, punter, deep snapper, holder and several new return specialists when it opens the season Aug. 29 at Missouri State.
No wonder Demons special teams coordinator Shep Campbell has a tone of excitement, and urgency, when he speaks.
“Early season games, more than any other, swing on special teams. This first game, it’s magnified because we’re on the road against a veteran, well-coached team at Missouri State,” said Campbell after NSU’s two-hour workout Thursday afternoon in full gear was capped by kickoff return drills.
“We have a chance to be explosive in the return game,” he said. “We were working timing on kickoff return today.”
The Demons stage their second and final major scrimmage Saturday morning at 10 in Turpin Stadium, with head coach Jay Thomas planning to run 85 plays as performances will greatly influence the depth chart. On special teams, Campbell has plenty of blank spots to fill with new contributors or veterans moving into heightened roles.
“We’re to the point in camp where a lot of our schemes have been implemented. We’re progressing nicely,” he said.
“Special teams can go two ways dramatically — you can either bust a game wide open, or you can fall way behind. The two more important units are kickoff and punt teams. Those percentage-wise are most critical. A fumbled return hurts, it changes the field, but a big return yards or a punt block can crush an opponent,” said Campbell.
Two record-setting specialists were 2012 seniors — kickoff returner Phil Harvey and kicker John Shaughnessy. Newcomers are the contenders for the kicking slot.
“We’ve been really pleased with (Iowa State transfer) Chris Moore. He’s got a cannon of a leg and has been doing well kicking the football. The potential is really there,” said Campbell about the sophomore from Plano, Texas. “Having a good kicker is a cornerstone to having successful special teams play.”
Sophomore Ed Eagan stepped in as a true freshman last fall when Harvey was injured and missed most of four games late in the season. He had an 82-yard kickoff return touchdown against FCS national runner-up Sam Houston State and is included on the College Football Performance Award return specialist watch list for 2013.