“Family. We’re a big family school,” senior defensive lineman Sean Progar said. “A lot of our teammates, we treat each other like family. I think that helps on the field. We trust each other. And hard-nosed. A lot of us are guys who are a little bit smaller, a little bit slower that didn’t get that opportunity that these guys at Florida State did or any other BCS school did. So we’ve got a chip on our shoulder. We’re going to play hard-nosed, disciplined and fundamental. We take pride in doing it the right way.”
If you’ve heard the “family” metaphor in sports enough to think you should need credentials to use it, here are Northern’s:
Compher says 180,000 of Northern’s 225,000 living alumni live within an hour of the school. Wide receiver Demetrius Stone said that welcoming family atmosphere around the team drew him there. At many Northern schools with a bloc of Florida players, you’ll find them moving in a Sunshine State clique. Stone, a Hialeah American High graduate, said the Florida players don’t really hang out with each other but with whomever else on the team with whom they get along.
“We’re a family, and we’re tough,” Jefferson said. “We can get through anything together, and we always have each other’s back. Whether it’s the football team going to a basketball game or the president talking to a teacher, we always have each other’s backs.”
The Orange Bowl is functioning as a family reunion. Atlanta Falcons running back Michael Turner is coming in for the game. So is veteran NFL offensive lineman Ryan Diem. Past Northern Illinois football coaches come around practice and will be at Sun Life Stadium on Tuesday.
As for the questions about whether or not Northern belongs, Carey shrugged and said: “You guys have to ask them, too. I mean, nobody’s heard of us before three weeks ago, right?”