âI started flipping through on my phone all the old Orange Bowl scores. I found that Notre Dame-Colorado one from way back, when I was a kid all those years ago. I thought to myself, âCan you believe it? Iâm coaching in that. Thatâs crazy,â â Carey says.
âWe are super excited. But we need to temper that a little bit. This is a reward for our guys. You have to be able to have fun and work, but itâs still pretty dang cool.â
He sees the same exhilaration in his athletes, who are about to play the game of their lives New Yearâs Day against the Florida State Seminoles in the 2013 Discover Orange Bowl.
âAnytime you can get college kids up at 5 a.m. and theyâre on time, you know theyâre pumped. That usually doesnât happen at all,â Carey says.
âYou can feel the excitement. A couple of us coaches were talking when we landed saying, âWell, it just became real.â So far itâs been this âway-off-in-the-distanceâ thing. Now weâre at the Orange Bowl, and weâre excited.â
âThe plane ride was great. We had to get up early, but it was no problem. We were excited because we were coming to Miami,â kicker Tyler Wedel confirms. âAs we got closer, I know a lot of guys were looking out, seeing the ocean for the first time and taking pictures of the city. We are really excited to be here and really happy for the opportunity.â
âItâs definitely exciting to be here. This is my first time here. We have several teammates that are from Miami, so they always talk about the weather, the beaches and the people,â cornerback Rashaan Melvin adds. âComing off the plane was an exciting time. The Orange Bowl committee always does a good job, and we feel so blessed to be a part of this.â
Linebacker Jamaal Bass is one of those Miami natives. âHonestly, it was unexpected, but itâs great to be home, especially playing in front of family and friends,â Bass says. âItâs been a long time since Iâve done that so itâs a great feeling.â
Quarterback Jordan Lynch, on his maiden voyage to the Sunshine State, is loving the heat.
âIt feels really good. Nice weather. This is my first time in Florida and it kind of beats the snow and everything. To play in the warm weather again feels good,â Lynch says.
The experience is âkind of surreal; a dream come true,â Lynch adds, saying it will always rank atop his college memories.
âAnytime you get the chance to play a BCS school, we have a chip on our shoulder. We feel like we can play at one of those schools,â he says. âWeâre going to be ready to go. We are a bunch of physical guys that love to get after it, and anytime you get the chance to play big-time competition, we love the spotlight.â
Despite the fun-and-sun of Florida, Carey says the team is focused on its goal.
Their flight from Rockford landed in Miami around 11:30 a.m. ET. They then traveled directly to Barry University, where they practiced for more than two-and-a-half hours.
Careyâs Huskies had a fast-paced practice in shorts and shoulder pads on a warm and breezy afternoon. It was teamâs first of five practices at the Miami Shores campus.
âOur guys always do a great job on what we call âflipping the switch.â When itâs time to work, itâs time to work. When itâs time to play, itâs time to play,â Carey says.
âYou have to have that, and itâs because of our seniors. They know we are going right to practice. They are kind of in that mode so if they are grouchy right now, itâs because they are in that mode so donât hold it against them.â
Lynch calls the first practice âintense.â
âWe came out to do what we had to do. I thought we looked pretty crisp for a long day,â he says. âWarm weather is something weâre not used to; usually weâre out in 20 degrees weather. A lot of the guys are loosened up, flying around and having fun out there.â
âYou just know this is a big opportunity. The opportunity to play in the Orange Bowl is bigger than the last two we played,â Bass adds. âWeâre still coming out and practicing hard, running hard and running through our plays.â
Thatâs exactly what Carey expects. âWe are NIU. We are the Huskies. We represent a great university at NIU,â he says.
âWe also represent ourselves, our families and our football team. I think we do it with class,â he adds. âJordan gets a lot of the headlines as he should, but we have a lot other great kids, too. As the week goes on, hopefully (the media) will get to shove the mic in front of them and get to know them.â