DeKALB – Northern Illinois players can't wait to arrive in Detroit on Thursday. The walls and roof of Ford Field, site of Friday's Mid-American Conference Championship Game, will be a welcome shelter from the blustery, winter-like weather sweeping the Midwest.
"It's going to be good to get into some warm weather and get a little sweat going this game," junior wide receiver Nathan Palmer said.
There was little sweating on Tuesday afternoon when the Huskies (10-2, 8-0 MAC) practiced in freezing temperatures at Huskie Stadium (the wind chill was 24 degrees), one day after practicing for an hour in a steady rainfall in just-above-freezing temperatures.
While all the NIU players at Tuesday's news conference – Palmer, Chandler Harnish, Alex Kube and D.J. Pirkle – said they'd rather practice indoors, their coach said the less-than-ideal weather hasn't lessened the Huskies' focus or work ethic.
"You know what? It didn't really seem to affect the kids," NIU coach Jerry Kill said. "They just locked in and did what they needed to do."
Kill said his team has grown accustomed to practicing in the chill because of 6 a.m. practices in late March.
"It's cold and windy. It's DeKalb," Kill said. "That's who we are. I think our kids have accepted who we are and how we do things. ...We're going to be playing in a dome anyway. We got a couple more days of this and we'll be all right. They know we have to get our work done, and we have no choice, so why sit around and worry and complain about it?"
While the Huskies have used the DeKalb Sports and Recreation Center to prepare for bowl games during the past few seasons, Kill said using the facility – more than three miles from the NIU campus – wasn't an option this week.
"Absolutely not. Can't do it," Kill said. "That's not big enough. We have to be on a full football field. We can't throw the ball or what we're supposed to do when we do it that way."
The Huskies won't enter Ford Field, home of the NFL's Detroit Lions, with a competitive disadvantage, however, as their opponent, MAC East Division winner Miami (Ohio), also does not have an indoor practice facility.
The cold hasn't exactly been a hindrance to the Huskies, who romped Eastern Michigan, 71-3, last Friday in 40-degree temperatures.
But Palmer said the room-temperature conditions inside Ford Field should allow NIU to run looser, and Harnish said the "fast" Ford Field field turf could benefit a Huskies offense built on speed.
"I don't think any of us are complaining because three years ago we were practicing for this and we were practicing for nothing when we were 2-10," said Kube, a senior linebacker. "Now we're out here practicing for something."
Added Kill: "If we're playing for the championship, and they said we had to go to the North Pole, we'll go play at the North Pole. We're going to play at an indoor facility, it's great. I'm looking forward to go to Detroit. That was the ultimate goal. This is the end of the race. We want to be able to finish it."