DeKALB – As Northern Illinois' offensive line coach, it's Joe Tripodi's job to make sure his group of linemen show improvements throughout spring practice.
On Saturday however, Tripodi will be playing favorites, rooting for guards Jared Volk and Aidan Conlon, center Mike Gegner and tackle Matt Krempel. All are members of Tripodi's Black team, which will take on Kevin Kane's Cardinal squad in the Inaugural Huskie Bowl, which kicks off at 1 p.m. The event is free and open to the public.
After last week's draft, Tripodi joked that three or four of his linemen wouldn't talk to him after not being picked by their position coach.
For one day, Tripodi and linemen such as center Andrew Ness and tackles Ryan Brown and Levon Myers, will be on different sides.
"Obviously, I want all my offensive linemen to improve this spring. Obviously, there's going to be some cases this week, on Saturday in particular, where the offensive linemen on the Black team, I'm going to be pulling for more," Tripodi said at Tuesday's Huskie Bowl news conference, with nearly the entire coaching staff on hand to watch. "Then you go back on Monday and you watch the film, I'm going to watch, obviously, both sides of it. If linemen on the Cardinal team are struggling, that's going to be on me to fix that."
After Saturday's game, everything will be back to normal for the Huskies players and coaching staff. But for one afternoon, the team will be divided. Kane has worked with linebackers Jamaal Bass and Boomer Mays all spring, but not Saturday with both being members of Tripodi's squad.
It's all about bragging rights – and a steak dinner, which goes to the winner.
"It's definitely going to be 60 minutes where I don't really care what happens on their side. That's just how it is," Kane said. "When it's all said and done, we're all on the same team. I'm going to critique what they did and we'll go from there.
"When the whistle blows, we're going out there to win, that's the bottom line. We're playing for a steak for crying out loud."
Tripodi said the game adds some extra "juice" to spring football, saying it gets rid of the lull that sometimes exists at the end of spring practice.
Something NIU coach Rod Carey pointed out was the fact that the Huskie Bowl gives some of the younger players who haven't seen the field a lot a chances to play in a game-like situation.
"That's going to be the good thing about this as we go, is that all of these guys are going to be put in a competitive situation. Some of them (it's been) a year or two since they actually played a football game," Carey said. "They're going to get that work. It's going to be fun to see them compete.
"That's what we're looking for out of this the most, is giving them an opportunity to compete, because practice can sometimes get really long."