Created:Wednesday, July 25, 2012 5:30 a.m.CDT
Updated:Wednesday, July 25, 2012 7:39 p.m.CDT
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Hungry to return to Detroit

By STEVE NITZ - snitz@shawmedia.com
Northern Illinois receiver Nate Palmer is hugged by coach Dave Doeren after NIU defeated Ohio, 23-20, for the Mid-American Conference championship Dec. 2 at Ford Field in Detroit. (Daily Chronicle file photo)

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DETROIT – Northern Illinois defensive end Sean Progar could have had the image of Mathew Sims’ last-second field goal going through the Ford Field uprights when he walked into Tuesday’s Mid-American Conference football media day.

Sims’ kick gave the Huskies a 23-20 win over Ohio in the 2011 MAC Championship Game, the school’s first conference title since 1983.

Instead of that picture, the first thing that popped into Progar’s head going into the Detroit stadium was that the 2012 MAC title game that will be in Detroit, where he wants to finish off his Huskie regular-season career by winning back-to-back conference titles.

“As soon as I walked in here I just thought about getting back. I think that’s the biggest thing for us right now,” Progar said. “We won the MAC Championship and it was great while it lasted, but I want to end it right, so the biggest thing is I want to get back here and win it again. Win a repeat.”

Like any team, NIU coach Dave Doeren said his squad takes the season one game at a time, and 2012 starts with the opener Sept. 1 against Iowa at Soldier Field. But the ultimate goal is to get back to Ford Field and compete for that conference title.

“We are a one-at-a-time team, but we do talk about where we want to end up,” Doeren said. “We haven’t got to that point yet, and quite honestly, last year I never had to talk about it because they talked about it so much. I was more of the calming, ‘Hey guys that’s great, but we have to beat these guys to get there.’ ”

Of course, for Progar, the memories from last season did return eventually.

“The biggest memory I had was hoisting the trophy with my teammates, and how happy everybody was to finally get the championship, not only for the team but for the university, because it had been 28 years and we had been here two times before and came up short when we thought we should have won,” Progar said. “It was just big to finally get it done.”

Compare that to when Progar stepped into Ford Field at last season’s MAC media day. That time, he was in the building after losing to Miami (Ohio), 26-21, on a touchdown catch by Redhawks receiver Armand Robinson in the final minute.

“Last year it was kind of bad walking in here and knowing we had lost that game on a last-second play, last-minute drive,” Progar said. “And it feels good to come back here knowing we won it, but at the same time it just makes me hungry to come back in a few months, because that’s the ultimate goal.”

Doeren called Ford Field “sacred” to his team. He said he sensed “anger” with Progar and former quarterback Chandler Harnish when the two arrived at MAC media day a year ago, and the energy to get back and avenge the loss.

There wasn’t any anger Tuesday, but the Huskies’ representatives still had the eagerness to be back at Ford Field on Nov. 30.

“I think every team will tell you this is your destination,” Doeren said. “If you’re in Detroit, you’re a good football team.”

Will the NIU football team play for the MAC title this year?
Yes
No
Too soon to tell