NATCHITOCHES — Job one for Northwestern State heading into Thursday night’s season opener against Missouri State: Win the road trip.
Jay Thomas, in his first year in charge of the program, begins his seventh season as a head coach and knows a game can be greatly influenced by a bad travel experience by the visiting team.
“I’ve seen teams that were put in a real tough position by what happened between the time they left home and they took the field for pregame warmup,” Thomas said Monday. “To win a road game, you first have to win the road trip.”
Northwestern State team buses were slated to head north from Natchitoches on Tuesday evening, rolling to Little Rock, Ark., for an overnight stay. They were set to complete the nine-hour journey to Springfield, Mo., on Wednesday including a stop in tourist haven Branson, which is just 44 miles south of the Missouri State campus.
“I’ve always believed, whenever possible, road trips should be fun and they should be educational,” Thomas said. “I’m sure some of our young men have never seen mountains. They will Wednesday.”
The Demons will work out at Plaster Field, where Thomas coached as an assistant with Southeast Missouri from 1993-98.
“I know which is the visitors’ sideline, where our locker room is, all the streets around the stadium. That’s a little edge opposed to a lot of nonconference games,” Thomas said. “When we get up Thursday morning, we’ll have our bearings, we’ll be in a good frame of mind and we better be. Missouri State is a tough opponent.”
The Bears return 10 defensive starters and an experienced offensive lineup that accounted for all of their rushing and passing yardage last year.
Safety Caleb Schaffitzel earned All-America honors as a junior with 109 tackles and five interceptions.
Kierra Harris was the starting quarterback in Missouri State’s final five games, when the Bears went 3-2 with losses only to Football Championship Subdivision champion North Dakota State and perennial power Northern Iowa.