DeKALB – When Sean Evans saw the Orange Bowl banner raised at Huskie Stadium before the 2013 spring game, mixed emotions flooded the NIU senior cornerback’s mind.
“It’s bittersweet,” Evans said. “It showed us that we set a new standard to build on, but it kind of reiterates to me that we didn’t get it done.”
Though it might be disappointing, the banner is motivation to improve on last season’s tough ending. But it does even more than that. It’s a reminder of how much Evans, his teammates and those who came before him have built a winning tradition in DeKalb.
Their contributions are a big reason why the new $3.3 million video board was built at Huskie Stadium, and why the $9.5 million Chessick Practice Center soon will be part of the tradition.
“Knowing that I helped to be a part of that, as well as those senior classes before us, it just feels good,” senior left guard Jared Volk said. “It feels like it’s going to help NIU and help the program.”
The ways in which these new additions will do that are yet to be seen, but the players believe the video board is a big step toward improving gameday atmospheres at Huskie Stadium.
Last season, average home attendance was 15,660 a game. The stadium’s capacity is 24,000, and junior receiver Tommylee Lewis said there still can be improvement, which he thinks will come from the board.
“It’s going to be a big benefit,” Lewis said. “I’m sure it’s going to crank the crowd up and keep everything exciting. It’ll boost the momentum for us.”
As for the Chessick Center, the players can’t wait for construction to be complete. It’s projected to be finished in the fall, just in time for the chill of cold-weather practices to be lessened.
NIU has many players who are from gulf-coast states who have a tough time getting acclimated to the weather, and for them, the multi-million dollar facility becomes almost priceless.
“The last four years of spring ball, we’ve been outside in the cold weather. It’s been 25 degrees,” said Evans, a Florida native. “It feels like it’s going to help NIU and help the program. It’s great watching it get built up every day. I can’t wait to use it.”
Not only does it satisfy the current players, but it’s a clear selling point for future recruits. Along with the title of the first Mid-American Conference team to play in a BCS bowl, the school now has improved facilities to show for it.
For seniors like Volk, the change is even more tangible. When he came to visit, the Yordon Center had just recently been finished. When he sees how far the program has come in such a short time, he sees it as an indication of things to come.
“Seeing that facility and how they take care of it, and how we’ve got one of the best weight rooms in the country, it’s huge,” Volk said of the Yordon Center. “Knowing that NIU’s continuing to get better and better every year, it’s just great for NIU and I’m really proud of it.”