Feel the heat! Football team arrives in Miami

Coach Rod Carey leads the first practice in Miami.

Coach Rod Carey leads the first practice in Miami.

Coach Rod Carey allowed his mind to wander as he flew Wednesday with the NIU Huskies football team to Miami.

“I 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, ‘Can you believe it? I’m coaching in that. That’s crazy,’ ” Carey says.

“We 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 it’s still pretty dang cool.”

He sees the same exhilaration in his athletes, who are about to play the game of their lives New Year’s Day against the Florida State Seminoles in the 2013 Discover Orange Bowl.

“Anytime you can get college kids up at 5 a.m. and they’re on time, you know they’re pumped. That usually doesn’t happen at all,” Carey says.

“You can feel the excitement. 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.”

“The plane ride was great. We had to get up early, but it was no problem. We were excited because we were coming to Miami,” kicker Tyler Wedel confirms. “As 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.”

Perez Ashford walks the orange carpet in Miami.

Perez Ashford walks the orange carpet in Miami.

“It’s 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,” cornerback Rashaan Melvin adds. “Coming 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.”

Linebacker Jamaal Bass is one of those Miami natives. “Honestly, it was unexpected, but it’s great to be home, especially playing in front of family and friends,” Bass says. “It’s been a long time since I’ve done that so it’s a great feeling.”

Quarterback Jordan Lynch, on his maiden voyage to the Sunshine State, is loving the heat.

“It 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,” Lynch says.

The experience is “kind of surreal; a dream come true,” Lynch adds, saying it will always rank atop his college memories.

“Anytime 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,” he says. “We’re 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.”

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.

Victor Jacques and Sean Progar model the new uniforms.

Victor Jacques and Sean Progar model the new uniforms.

Carey’s Huskies had a fast-paced practice in shorts and shoulder pads on a warm and breezy afternoon. It was team’s first of five practices at the Miami Shores campus.

“Our guys always do a great job on what we call ‘flipping the switch.’ When it’s time to work, it’s time to work. When it’s time to play, it’s time to play,” Carey says.

“You have to have that, and it’s 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, it’s because they are in that mode so don’t hold it against them.”

Lynch calls the first practice “intense.”

“We came out to do what we had to do. I thought we looked pretty crisp for a long day,” he says. “Warm weather is something we’re not used to; usually we’re out in 20 degrees weather. A lot of the guys are loosened up, flying around and having fun out there.”

“You just know this is a big opportunity. The opportunity to play in the Orange Bowl is bigger than the last two we played,” Bass adds. “We’re still coming out and practicing hard, running hard and running through our plays.”

That’s exactly what Carey expects. “We are NIU. We are the Huskies. We represent a great university at NIU,” he says.

“We also represent ourselves, our families and our football team. I think we do it with class,” he adds. “Jordan 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.”

For more information on NIU football and Huskie athletics, visit www.niuhuskies.com. A photo gallery also is available online.

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