Generations of Northwestern State football knowledge trickled down to 108 members of the current Demons roster early Tuesday afternoon at the Collins Family Alumni Pavilion on the NSU campus.
Former Super Bowl champion assistant coach Bill Johnson capped a group of 19 former Demons players who gathered to cook for and to speak to the 2019 Northwestern State team as it reported to campus ahead of Wednesday’s first day of practice.
Johnson started his message by echoing a comment made by former Demons assistant Gene Knecht, who was on staff when during Johnson’s NSU career that spanned the 1975-78 seasons.
“Every day is a dandy day for football,” Johnson bellowed, linking together more than six decades of Demon football in an eight-word span.
Prior to opening his first fall camp as the Demons head coach a year ago, head coach Brad Laird said he wanted to bridge the gap between former and current players.
One year later, it’s clear Laird’s plan worked. Nearly double the number of former players returned to campus to impart their knowledge and share the memories they formed while wearing Purple and White on Saturdays.
“Last year was the first year, and we probably had 10 former players come back,” Laird said. “Gary Morgan, Petey Perot and J.P. Dunbar are really the catalysts behind where this is today. We wanted our message to be that former players are still so involved. I wanted to build that relationship with our former players and current players. To have them here for to kick off the 2019 season allows our players to really understand what that four to five years means 30 years down the road.
“Sometimes in this fast-paced society, in this fast-paced world, we forget to enjoy the process and enjoy the moment. These guys gave our guys and myself a chance to reflect on it. “
The lunch with the former Demons helped break up the routine of Report Day, which began around 10 a.m. when the first group arrived at the Stroud Room to begin checking in for fall camp, which will run through Aug. 17, two days before fall semester classes begin. It continued with afternoon meetings involving athletic department and university personnel, position meetings and physicals.
After hearing several former teammates and players he coached while at Northwestern State, Johnson took center stage and delivered a speech that was part football pastor and technical coach.
“It brought back a lot of memories,” said Johnson, a 2007 N-Club Hall of Famer who was part of the New Orleans Saints’ Super Bowl XLIV championship coaching staff. “Like I told the young men, they’re going to form so many friendships and bonds like we have. It’s such a great opportunity to get together, get old friends together and start the season. This should become a wonderful tradition.”
Johnson’s message struck home with the assembled group, but Laird made it a point to reference one of Johnson’s final NFL proteges, 2018 NFL Defensive Player of the Year Aaron Donald.
Laird emphasized the same message Johnson delivered to the Demons on Tuesday was the exact one Donald heard on a daily basis the past two seasons.
“I appreciate it,” senior defensive tackle O’Shea Jackson. “We’ve got to put on for those guys who put on when they were in our position. I’m living up to that challenge.”
The Demons open the first of four split days of practice Wednesday at 9:15 a.m. with the veterans going through their first camp workout with newcomers following at 3:30 p.m. That schedule will continue through Saturday before the Demons hold their first full-squad workout Monday morning.
Northwestern State opens the 2019 season at UT Martin on Aug. 29 in a 6:30 p.m. kickoff.