MIAMI BEACH, Fla. – Jake Coffman didn’t wait too long before he decided he was heading to south Florida for the Orange Bowl.
The former Northern Illinois defensive end made his plans Dec. 2, right after it was announced the Huskies would be going to their biggest bowl game in school history.
“I booked my hotel Monday morning (Dec. 3) and booked the flight a little bit later,” he said.
Coffman, who played at NIU from 2007-10, was one of many former Huskies players in attendance at a reception Sunday evening at the Fontainebleau Hotel. Former coaches Joe Novak and Jerry Kill also spoke to the media.
Justin McCareins, an NIU receiver from 1997-2000 who spent eight years in the NFL with the Tennessee Titans and New York Jets, didn’t have to drive too far to get to the reception, although he won’t be able to attend the game.
McCareins is a police officer in the Fort Lauderdale area. For at least this week, McCareins isn’t the only Huskie fan in south Florida.
“It’s crazy. I work with a lot of Florida State guys. It’s just been great,” said McCareins, who has an auditorium in the Yordon Center named after him. “To see the university get the attention and the recognition they’ve been getting, it’s been a long time coming. It’s been really good.”
Ken Muszynski played center for the Huskies and graduated in 1970. He called the gathering with all the old Huskies overwhelming.
“Look at all the guys that are here and all the guys you played with,” Muszynski said. “It kind of gives you a lump in your throat because it’s really cool.”
Kill is the coach who recruited most of this team, spending 2008-10 in DeKalb. He just finished his second season at Minnesota with a loss to Texas Tech in the Meineke Car Care Bowl of Texas.
He’ll attend the Orange Bowl on Tuesday, and it will be a different experience, considering he never gets to attend games as a fan.
“Not since I’ve been coaching. It’s been 30 years,” he said. “I always used to tell the kids I’d look forward to tailgating and watching somebody else worry. So, I’ll still tailgate, but I’ll worry too because I want the Huskies to win.”
When talking about the rise of the Huskies program that led to this appearance in the Orange Bowl, Coffman and Kill mentioned how Novak was the one who got everything started.
Novak had some expectations when he took over the NIU program in 1996, but nothing like this.
“We had some dreams when I went in there years ago. We wanted to win some championships and see some facilities built, but I honestly never thought about the Orange Bowl,” he said. “That wasn’t on the agenda, but we’re here and I think it’s the greatest thing. It really is.”