DeKALB, Ill. -- Northern Illinois football players each receive six tickets for family and friends to attend the Huskies’ Jan. 1 Orange Bowl date with Florida State.
But for members of NIU’s Florida delegation, six is nowhere near enough.
“I’m going to need at least 30, minimum,” senior linebacker Victor Jacques said. “But I’m shooting for 40.”
The demands on running back Akeem Daniels, a junior from the Kissimmee, Fla., are similar and rising.
“I’ve got 20-plus so far,” he said. “Everybody’s calling. Family, friends, family’s friends. I’m trying to do my best to get everybody tickets. I’m asking other teammates if they’re not using them.”
The Huskies’ roster is dotted with 11 players from the Sunshine State, some who were recruited by in-state schools but opted to migrate 1,000 miles north. As many as eight could start on Jan. 1 against the Seminoles.
“I wanted to see something different,” Jacques, a redshirt senior with 28 tackles in eight appearances this season, said. “Coming here, I saw how it was a great program, had great facilities, was on the rise and it was kind of an easy choice.”
Jacques, who was also recruited by Florida International, Central Florida and South Florida, said there were adjustments to make from the balmy and culturally distinct Miami region.
“It’s (was) a big transition,” he said. “The people are a little bit different, but for the most part the weather was the biggest thing. I finally got a winter coach and got used to it.”
Jacques can’t wait to play at his hometown Sun Life Stadium on Jan. 1 against the Seminoles.
“It’s a complete, absolute dream for me being able to play in front of all my friends and family,” he said. “Especially (being) my last game, it’s quite an experience that I will cherish for a long time.”
Daniels already had a connection in DeKalb. His older brother, Kiaree, played defensive back at NIU from 2008-10. And Akeem liked the chemistry and closeness among Huskie players.
“I thought that was real special, you don’t get that everywhere,” he said. “At the end of the day I had to make the decision, but my brother being here and liking the team bonding, the team chemistry, it made it an easy decision.”
Daniels been a dual threat for the Huskies with 432 rushing yards on 65 carries and nine touchdowns. He’s also caught 18 passes for 192 yards and two TDs.
And Daniels, who says he long ago adjusted to DeKalb’s cold and legendary winds, has no regrets about coming north.
“Three MAC championship (games) the past three years,” he said. “I like this place.”
Other top Floridians on the Huskies include Tommylee Lewis, Riviera Beach, the No. 2 receiver with 43 catches for 478 yards and five touchdowns; linebacker Jamaal Bass, Miramar, the Huskies third-leading tackler (76); cornerback Demetrius Stone, Miami, 73 tackles; and defensive tackle Ken Bishop, Sunrise, 52 tackles.
Northern Illinois coaches started serious preparation for Florida State this week and had at least one day (Monday) to work outdoors at Huskie Stadium before moving practice to the enclosed DeKalb Recreation Center on Tuesday.
“Yesterday we started the main part of our game plan and we got some time with the coaches to get some film study done,” head coach Rod Carey said. “We’re still in the middle of what I call a four-day game-plan week. We’re treating this like we build up to a normal (game).”
The Huskies (12-1) will face a Florida State team (11-2) unlike any they’ve faced.
“They’re good, that’s an understatement, probably, ” Carey said. “They’re long, they’re athletic, they’re sound in what they do and well coached. They do all the things you expect an ACC (Atlantic Coast) champion to do.”
But NIU counters with plenty of talent and exceptional seniors.
“We have a lot of really good players on this team,” he said. “From Martel Moore to Perez Ashford, Sean Progar, Alan Baxter -- all of our seniors are playing their best football. That’s what makes this team.
“If you look through the roster and highlight a senior, that’s one of our best players.”
The Huskies plan to practice in DeKalb through Thursday, then break for the holiday. They’ll return Christmas night and depart for Florida at 5:30 a.m. on Wednesday, Dec. 26.
Northern Illinois will practice daily in the run up to the Orange Bowl, set for a 7:30 p.m. (Central) kickoff on ESPN.
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