DeKALB – The Northern Illinois football team certainly has more to be thankful about this year, but NIU coach Jerry Kill doesn’t want his team to count its blessings before Friday’s 11 a.m. kickoff at Eastern Michigan.
The day after Thanksgiving wasn’t too kind to the Huskies last year when Central Michigan gave NIU a 45-31 drubbing in Mt. Pleasant, Mich., as the eventual Mid-American Conference champion Chippewas claimed a 31-10 lead over NIU after three quarters.
“I hope we do something different than we do last year because we got our butt kicked at Central Michigan,” Kill said. “I hope to [heck] we do something different than we did last year.”
For the second straight year, the Huskies (9-2, 7-0 MAC) will spend the holiday on the road. The 65 players on the travel roster will have a “feast” on Wednesday, Kill said, but the team will then practice in DeKalb on Thursday morning before setting off on the 310-mile bus trip to Ypsilanti, Mich., to take on the Eagles (2-9, 2-5 MAC).
For Kill and his staff, spending Thanksgiving away from their dining tables is nothing new.
“Families adjust, and it’s all part of being in college football or even high school football,” said Kill, who coached Webb City (Mo.) High School from 1988-89. “As a high school football coach, I thought it was a great time of the year. It was a lot of fun if you were still practicing (on Thanksgiving).
“Coaching, you can write a book on our lifestyles. It’s totally different than most people. It’s unique. You have to have a unique wife, which I’m fortunate to have. And you got to have great kids, and I’m fortunate to have two beautiful girls that understand what they’re daddy does for a living.”
The NIU players will live on a mostly deserted campus for part of the short practice week as most students head home for Thanksgiving break today. But the Huskies, who clinched the MAC West title and a trip to the MAC Championship Game with a 59-21 rout of Ball State on Saturday, say they’ll be too busy preparing for EMU to notice the mass exodus of their peers.
“It’s kind of business as usual,” junior offensive tackle Keith Otis said. “It’s all about winning. That’s the type of focus we have. We just want to win, period. Whether there’s people here (on campus) or not, it doesn’t really matter.”
Thanksgiving is of secondary importance for the NIU players, who are looking to wrap up the program’s first-ever sweep of the MAC and first 10-win season since 2003.
“We are a family,” NIU senior wide receiver Landon Cox said. “We’ve been through this road together. We’ve done all that needs to be done to get ourselves in the position we are now and we just want to finish (the regular season) off on a good note.”