MIAMI SHORES, Fla. – Wednesday morning, the Northern Illinois football team boarded its charter at Chicago Rockford International Airport in temperatures below freezing.
A few hours later, the team was stepping off the jet into temperatures around 80 degrees at Miami International Airport.
When the team stepped off the plane, the pictures were taken and the tweets were sent. The Orange Bowl hype started as soon as it was announced the Huskies were going to Miami. Wednesday, the reality finally set in.
“To actually be here and practice here, it’s a great feeling,” said sophomore linebacker Jamaal Bass, who grew up in Miramar, which is just five miles from Sun Life Stadium, where NIU will play Florida State on New Year’s Day.
The team boarded its buses, two of which featured a large picture of NIU players taking the field, to its first practice. Leading the Huskies was a large police escort.
After the team’s first south Florida workout at Barry University, which is located in Miami Shores, a suburb just north of Miami, the Huskies were headed to the luxurious Fountainebleau Hotel in Miami Beach.
NIU will practice at the small university, which has two practice fields, leading up to the game.
For once, NIU didn’t have to practice in the cold at Huskie Stadium, or indoors at the DeKalb Sports and Recreation Center. It was a nice, sunny afternoon for the Huskies’ first workout.
“I don’t think the O-lineman thought so, or the D-line,” NIU head coach Rod Carey joked. “I liked it, I got a little sweat on.”
While the Huskies are on a business trip leading up to the biggest bowl game in school history, they’ll still have a chance to enjoy themselves. The team has a beach party scheduled for this afternoon after practice, as well as a dinner outing Friday. Last week, Carey mentioned how he was going to let the team have fun, but mentioned how the players know they’re representing the program and university.
Being in south Florida for the Orange Bowl should be a good experience because NIU gets to compete in such a prestigious game, but the Huskies will also want to have a good time. Like any bowl game, it’s a reward for a good season.
“It’s a great opportunity, and it’s a great opportunity to play FSU,” safety Jimmie Ward said.
NIU will certainly get the whole pampered bowl game experience, and then some, leading up to the game. However, Carey mentioned that when the team stepped on the practice field Wednesday, it was business as usual.
The Huskies have been used to bowl games. After all, the Orange Bowl will be NIU’s fifth consecutive bowl. Carey credited his team’s seniors with helping the team stay focused.
“That’s how you balance it,” Carey said. “You balance it with the leadership.”