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Different atmosphere at NIU this spring

DeKALB – Following Northern Illinois' 31-10 loss to Florida State in the Orange Bowl, Huskies safety Jimmie Ward went back to his hometown of Mobile, Ala. to spend some time with his family.

After finshing up a season which resulted in NIU's first BCS appearance, it was a greeting Ward wasn't necessarily used to. He also had to sign some extra autographs.

"A lot of people wanted to see me," Ward said. "A lot of people wanted autographs, like my family. The people I see on a daily basis wanted me to sign autographs, stuff like that."

The Orange Bowl is an experience which will forever be a staple of the program, which won't be looked at the same.

Now, the Huskies are back at 0-0, preparing for the start of a new season which could bring expectations NIU has never seen.

The school's Orange Bowl experience has come and gone but there are still reminders of it at spring practice, whether it's a player wearing a sweatshirt that features the Orange Bowl logo under his jersey, or someone wearing a hat with the same logo.

At Saturday's annual spring game, NIU will unveil the Orange Bowl banner and the players will receive their bowl rings.

The month leading up to the BCS game was a heck of a month for NIU head coach RodCarey, who got the top job the day the Huskies' were officially in the game. He said it was an even busier time following the game with recruiting and putting together a coaching staff.

Things have gotten more back to normal since signing day for Carey and his staff.

"Since then we've kind of gotten into a little bit of a rhythm and things have kind of moved a long," he said.

To Ward, this spring has seen a different atomsphere around the program. None of these players will ever forget the 2012 season, which culminated in the historic BCS appearance.

Still, the loss to the Seminoles left a sour taste in everyone's mouth. To Ward, that's showed this spring.

"I feel like we've got a chip on our shoulder, just coming off that loss last season," Ward said. "And the coaches have a chip on their shoulder because they're coaching different, everybody's playing different, everybody's more aggressive [in practice] ... and when you come out to practice, everybody's taking it serious, there's no jokes."

"Chip on our shoulder" was a phrase wide receiver Tommylee Lewis used as well.

"Nobody wants to lose, especially in a game like that," he said. "It definitley put an extra chip on our shoulder to come out and do better."

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