Dec. 26, 2012
Discover Orange Bowl Central
MIAMI - It was an eventful - and lengthy - first day that began in DeKalb and ended in Miami for the Northern Illinois Huskies. NIU began its Orange Bowl odyssey with an early wake-up call on the day after Christmas in DeKalb as players, coaches, coaches families and other members of the official travel party reported to the Convocation Center at 5 a.m. to begin the loading process for the trip south.
Television stations from Rockford (WTVO, WIFR) and Chicago (WGN, WLS) came out to the Chicago Rockford Airport for pre-trip interviews, and if the departure and trip south was low-key, the arrival at Miami International Airport was the opposite.
As the Miami Air flight pulled into the designated area of the huge international airport, water cannons from two fire trucks showered the plane with a welcome blast and a line of orange-jacketed Orange Bowl Committee members lined a "red carpet" bearing oranges, congratulations and gift bags.
NIU players pulled out their cameras when they saw one of the two team busses "wrapped" in a huge photo of the Huskies taking the field. The Image of Jason Schepler, Nabal Jefferson and Sean Progar leading the entire pack on a beach backdrop will announce to whoever sees the busses around town that NIU is in the Orange Bowl.
NIU Head Coach Rod Carey said landing in Miami provided a sense of urgency as the team headed to practice.
"You can feel the excitement," Carey said. "A couple of us coaches were talking when we landed saying `well it just became real.' So far it's been this way off in the distance thing. Now we're at the Orange Bowl, and we're excited."
From the airport, a group of approximately 12 motorcycle police officers and two squad cars escorted Northern Illinois to its practice site at Barry University in Miami Shores. The highways were cleared for the NIU busses, which breezed through every light.
Temperatures in the 80s, accompanied by a warm breeze, greeted NIU at Barry University, the Huskies' on the field home through December 30th. NIU will practice on the plush grass fields used by the Division II Buccaneers' soccer teams.
Once on the field, practice followed a similar routine to NIU's workouts throughout the season. NIU was on the field for almost two hours and Carey later called the practice one of the team's best of the year.
"Last year [in the GoDaddy.com Bowl] we came out and it was one of the worst practices of the year," Carey said. "Today, it was sharp. I pulled them up about halfway through and told them `you have the chance to have a really special practice' and we did."
NIU quarterback Jordan Lynch said the players enjoyed the conditions.
"A lot of guys are flying around," Lynch said. "Warm weather is something we're not used to, usually we're out in 20-degree weather. A lot of the guys are loosened up, flying around and having fun out there."
The Huskies picked up a snack on the way out of practice and nearly 12 hours after meeting in DeKalb, headed to their home for the week, the Fontainebleau Hotel in Miami Beach. Players picked up their bags and room keys and moments later many were on the beach.
They reconvened at 7 p.m. for the first "event" of the week, a welcome dinner which also included "shopping" in the Orange Bowl gift suite. Players received a Tourneau watch and leather, monogrammed box, then received an allotment of "points" to spend on up to seven items from the gift suite. Selections ranged from headphones, cameras and blu-ray players to sunglasses, a guitar and even a bicycle. Many players could be seen calling their moms and/or texting their girlfriends as they decided what to "buy."
The day concluded with a team meeting at which the Huskie seniors revealed the new adidas uniforms that Northern Illinois will wear in the Orange Bowl game. More to come on that Thursday on NIUHuskies.com and Orange Bowl Central.
-- NIU --
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