NATCHITOCHES – With the depth chart set for next weekend's season-opening game at Texas Tech, and the final preseason practices in the books, the Northwestern State football team's maturation is obvious.
Among the 22 offensive and defensive starters, 18 are juniors and seniors. Adding in kicker John Shaughnessy and punter Nic Russo, and nickel back Cortez Paige, and 11 of NSU's 25 front-line players are seniors.
There's only one sophomore starting on offense, redshirt sophomore Josh Cunningham at left guard. Both starting cornerbacks are sophomores, Imoan Claiborne and Rico Albert, while sophomore Damon Medcafe is the first-team nose tackle.
Scanning the backups on the depth chart, which goes three deep at some positions, there are more young and new faces.
Seven first-year offensive players are likely to hit the field in Lubbock, including true freshman Pace Murphy, the second-team right tackle.
Another true freshman, Natchitoches product Leroy Armstrong, is the backup to three-year starter Wade Williams at left defensive end while true freshman Fred Thomas is the No. 2 right cornerback, behind another young player, sophomore Rico Albert, who played as a true freshman a year ago.
The Purple Swarm defense has five first-year players as backups, but there are also four seniors who should play extensively although not starting the first game on defense. Thirteen of the 26 players on the defensive depth chart have lettered at least twice.
Offensively, there are 10 players with at least two letters among the 27 shown on the depth chart.
The Demons weathered a lightning delay Friday and were hustling off the field at Turpin Stadium for the start of a high school football jamboree, and to get started on a weekend away from workouts, position meetings and other team activities.
"We've been going at it for almost a month, and they need a break and they've earned it," said fourth-year coach Bradley Dale Peveto. "We'll play seven games until our open date and we didn't want to go 11 straight weekends of football. We'll all come back Monday refreshed and raring to go."
After the Texas Tech game, NSU plays host to Arkansas-Monticello on Sept. 8 at Turpin Stadium.
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