While getting a BCS berth has certainly panned out to be one of the best ways to send out the winningest senior class in NIU history, it helps the returning players as well.
“It sets a tone for them, it really does,” said coach Rod Carey. “It shows them what this group in front of them has accomplished and how hard they had to work. Some of these seniors got a chance to talk to this team and what they said is, ‘Hey listen, you haven’t arrived. You still have to do the work. This doesn’t just happen.’
“So they’ve gotten that message to them, these young guys have seen these guys do it, they’ve learned from them so it sets a tone that is invaluable to us.”
One person in particular who sent that message was senior defensive end Sean Progar, who gave his senior speech today, and wanted to reinforce to the team the importance of not only their responsibilities for this game, but for being an NIU football player.
“We didn’t make it, it’s not over,” Progar said. “All the work I’ve put in and these seniors have put in for the last four, five years. And the people before us taught us what NIU football was, what it meant to work, what it means to be tough, and to never give up--the faith that we have in our abilities to play against teams like Florida State, and we want them to understand that.”
“Not only in this game but when we leave after this game, it’s on them. Those juniors and seniors in three days and four days, I just want them to understand it’s on them now to keep the NIU tradition not only winning but the way we work and what it means to be an NIU football player.”
While the returning squad next year will still have leadership from players like junior quarterback Jordan Lynch, this experience is not limited to just members who get to play. All members of the team have made the trip that were supposed to, and Carey offers a simple explanation for what some of the freshmen may feel like come game night.
“I would think it’s pretty cool for an 18-year-old, pretty wide-eyed and bushy-tailed,” Carey said.
Redshirt junior defensive tackle Anthony Wells echoed sentiments similar to Progar's, but also emphasized the actual experience of physically being in the stadium with the expected atmosphere.
“The seniors really left a legacy and showed them how it’s supposed to be done,” Wells said. “This is probably gonna be one of the biggest crowds I’ve played in, we’ve all played in. That’s definitely gonna be something that’s gonna help, like when we go to Iowa next year.”
The Huskies group has found a lot of success on the strength of their seniors, with Progar and fellow senior defensive end Alan Baxter anchoring the line and senior receiver Martel Moore providing explosive offense.
Despite the talent that will be lost when the seniors graduate, Progar believes the accomplishment to get to this level in college football should serve to provide motivation, not a sense of entitlement.
The feat of getting to the Orange Bowl should serve notice to the younger players and should spark even more fire in the returning juniors who will be seniors next season.
“If this doesn’t motivate them, their first year here, their going to the Orange Bowl--if that doesn’t motivate you to work as hard as you can and get another opportunity like that then I don’t know what will,” Progar said. “It’s gonna be big for those juniors going into next year knowing that it’s possible, win as many games as you can because it’s possible.”