The two words were always there when Southeastern Louisiana’s football team needed them.

In order to push through the summer’s oppressive heat to finish conditioning drills or complete an additional set of lifts in the weight room, the Lions repeated the following:

Northwestern State.

For the first time in nearly four decades No. 19 Southeastern opens the regular season with a conference opponent, traveling to Northwestern State to also begin Southland Conference play at 6 p.m. Thursday.

The game will be televised by the American Sports Network.

“You don’t normally start off with a conference game,” SLU wide receiver Jeff Smiley. “It’s something that helped motivate the guys on the team. It’s a little more exciting than coming in with a nonconference game.”

SLU could get a leg up toward a third straight Southland Conference championship with a victory after either winning or sharing in the past two.

The Demons, who have dropped three straight to the Lions, will wear white helmets for the first time in 14 years with Turpin Stadium staging a “White Out”.

“It’s going to be a great college environment,” SLU coach Ron Roberts said. “I expect it to be a packed house.”

Senior cornerback Denzel Thompson, a first team All-SLC preseason selection, said the Lions got the message about the game’s significance before the start of fall camp.

“The sense of urgency was implied then,” he said. “Conference is what counts. Some people come into the first game and play sloppy. We have to come out strong and clean.”

While SLU hasn’t opened the season against a conference opponent since 1976, you have to go back two years to find the last time Northwestern did the same thing.

The Demons are coming off a 6-6 season in which they defeated Louisiana Tech and Sam Houston State but because of a collection of injuries in the second-half of the season wound up 4-4 in league play.

“It’s going to be huge for both teams,” said Northwestern coach Jay Thomas, a native of Baker. “It’s a conference game, and you can get to 1-0 in the league from the beginning. As a staff, we prepared in the spring and in the summer, and we had this in the back of our mind.”

Although he hasn’t announced it publicly, Thomas said his team’s quarterback rotation has been determined with the players already being notified.

LSU and Vanderbilt transfer Stephen Rivers is the lone senior among the group and considered to be a strong pocket passer, capable of utilizing the Demons top weapon — wide receiver Ed Fagan.

Junior college transfer Joel Blumenthal, a sophomore, is deemed to be more of a running threat if the Demons want to turn to their option game.

“We’ll get out there and see who has the hot hand,” Thomas said. “We may stay that way for a while.”

SLU’s a little more settled at quarterback with junior D’Shaie Landor succeeding All-SLC selection Bryan Bennett. Utah transfer Donovan Isom, a redshirt freshman is also expected to play.

“I think everybody’s ready to play,” Roberts said. “Our guys are tired of practicing against one another. They had a great fall camp, but they’re tired of seeing each other and need someone else to go against and gauge where we’re at.”

Lagniappe

Northwester has four starters and a reserve in its two-deep from the Baton Rouge area. Linebacker Paxton Cook and cornerback Manuel Mukes of Parkview Baptist top that group, along with defensive ends Darrien Batiste of Dutchtown and LaAllen Clark of Central and wide receiver Cameron Lazare of Woodlawn. Cook graduated magna cum laude this summer with a 3.73 gpa in health and exercise science.