Dec. 29, 2012
MIAMI - The days have started to run together for the Northern Illinois team and official travel party as day three quickly blended into day four as more and more Northern Illinois fans arrived in South Florida.
Both mornings began with a quintet of Northern Illinois players and an assistant coach making the 45-minute drive to Fort Lauderdale, Fla. to meet with the media at the media headquarters hotel - the Harbor Beach Marriott. While the BCS bowl press conferences are a completely different experience - each player had an individual podium, for example - the most unique part of the press conference was the police escort.
Two squad cars escorted the official Orange Bowl vehicles with several players riding with the police detail assigned to the Huskies during their time in Miami. With lights and sirens, the convoy drives through lights and cars are forced to pull over or at the very least get out of the way - normally. On Friday morning, an accident completely closed I-95 and the convoy was forced to take a "local" route. This involved driving without paying attention to lanes, forcing cars onto the median and sidewalks, and the police getting very agitated at a truck driver who refused to move out of the way. It was quite a nerve-wracking experience (at least for the driver of one of the vehicles, Associate AD Donna Turner).
The NIU defensive press conference, held 15 minutes after the FSU offensive press conference, featured defensive coordinator Jay Niemann, linebackers Tyrone Clark and Victor Jacques, defensive backs Jimmie Ward and Demetrius Stone, and defensive end Sean Progar. The highlights of the players' session were Stone's impromptu interviews of his NIU teammates as he tried to catch them off-guard with crazy questions, and Jacques' new tattoo.
The tattoo was a vista of the Miami skyline, prominently featuring the Huskies' team hotel, the Fontainebleau.
A few hours after the Huskie defensive crew returned to Miami Beach, it was back to the practice fields at Barry University. The Florida State "chop" continued to provide the audio backdrop, although "Napalm's" Huskie Rap started the practice session. The day was surprisingly cloudy, but still humid and Head Coach Rod Carey pronounced himself pleased with the day's work, which he called "a lot better than yesterday."
"This team does the right thing all the time and I'm proud of the way they came out and practiced," Carey said. "You know, it's hard to explain, sometimes you get a group like this that meshes well together and they like each other and care about each other and then all of the sudden doing the right thing is kind of what you do."
Following the workout, Northern Illinois returned to the Fontainebleau and a short time later, the team traveled to the south end of Miami Beach where they dined in royal fashion at Fogo de Chao, an all-the meat you can eat" restaurant, while the coaches and their wives enjoyed an outing at Joe's Stone Crab, one of Miami Beach's signature restaurants.
The NIU offensive players and coach Bob Cole had to assemble an hour earlier as the Huskies led off the day in Fort Lauderdale. Quarterback Jordan Lynch, running back Akeem Daniels, offensive lineman Jared Volk, tight end Jason Schepler and wide receiver Martel Moore departed the hotel at 7:15 am and arrived through clear streets before 8 am.
Cole adeptly dodged reporters' questions about how NIU would handle FSU All-American defensive end Bjoern Werner and said that Huskie quarterback Jordan Lynch is "probably the toughest player I've ever seen...in 25 years." Cole said Lynch is "Just a tough kid from the south side of Chicago who loves playing football."
Not surprisingly, Lynch was surrounded for nearly the entire 30 minute players' session, which passed quickly and the Huskies returned to Miami Beach without incident. The football team once again went through its pre-practice routine of meetings before heading to Barry on a sunny and warmer day. The practice was characterized as a "Thursday" practice, meaning the players did not wear pads or hit while they took as many mental reps as physical.
Following practice, a group of approximately 15 players hand-picked by Assistant Athletic Director for Football Operations Matt Lipman, along with Carey, headed to Baptist Children's Hospital. With gift bags in tow, the Huskies, including quarterbacks Lynch, Drew Hare and Matt Williams, offensive lineman Logan Pegram, defensive lineman Nabal Jefferson and George Rainey, cornerback Rashaan Melvin and receiver Juwan Brescacin, were escorted to different rooms by the Children's Life Specialists, Bethany and Lori. Although the players ran into a couple of Florida State fans, all the kids were thrilled to have a visit and meet the Huskies, promising to watch the game and look for numbers 6, 82, 11, 99 and more.
"This isn't something we do for our team, this is about the kids," Carey said as NIU left the hospital after the hour-long visit. "I have two kids and this is something we want to do and something we need to do. It's extremely important."
The hospital visit closed out another long, successful day at the Discover Orange Bowl for the Northern Illinois Huskies as game-day loomed.
-- NIU --
Facebook: NIU Huskies