Over the course of the last five weeks, NIU football has been through a whirlwind of events.
Starting with the Huskies' victory in the MAC championship at the end of November, they have since lost their head coach, found a replacement and become the first MAC team to ever be selected for a BCS bowl.
Following all this, the students still had to complete finals and other school work, and as of Dec. 26 touched down in Miami to a very receptive welcome from the Orange Bowl Committee. This welcome included traveling on buses with pictures of members of the team on the side of the bus and a group welcome from Orange Bowl committee members, where oranges were handed out.
“They loved coming off and seeing their pictures on the bus,” said coach Rod Carey. “They were snapping pictures of it, sending it, tweeting it, whatever they do now.”
The team has had to adjust to the weather, though in a more positive way, as junior quarterback Jordan Lynch admitted.
“Everyone was excited,” Lynch said. “We had a great welcome there when we got off the plane. You know, warm weather, we’re not used to it. We’re usually outside in 20-degree weather, so a lot of people’s bodies are loosened up.”
This weather has allowed the team to already get in a practice, which Carey believes went well for being just the first day down in Florida after a Christmas layoff.
“We got to the field and they snapped right back in and got to work,” Carey said. “We came out last year for the GoDaddy Bowl and it was probably the worst practice of the year and today it was sharp. I pulled them halfway through and told them we had a chance to have a real special practice and we did.”
Junior running back Akeem Daniels believes the fanfare had its place and there are larger issues at hand.
“It was all nice at the beginning and it still is right now,” Daniels said. “I love the weather, but I think just getting the focus back to football is what we need to focus on right now.”
While Daniels is more keyed-in on the game, there have been many little things that have stuck out to the Huskies as the Orange Bowl brings new experiences. Some have even been as tiny as Lynch never seeing the Atlantic Ocean.
“He’s a sheltered kid, isn’t he?” Carey said. “This is a reward and you have to treat it that way but you also have to do your work. Our team, because of our senior leadership, does a great job of snapping in.”