Huskie Stadium in Dekalb is over an hour drive from Soldier Field, but the Northern Illinois football team is hoping to make the Chicago Bears stadium feel like home.
Northern will open the season against Iowa at Soldier FIeld on Sep. 1, and after a 49-7 loss to Wisconsin there last season, head coach Dave Doeren said he wants his player to be comfortable in the pro stadium.
"It's a neutral field and we'd like it to not be neutral for us," Doeren said. "We're going to make sure that in that locker room, it feels like home and when we come out of that tunnel, we treat it like a home game."
Doeren and a handful of his players were at the stadium Tuesday for Northern's football media day. The second-year head coach said he plans to hold a walk-through at Soldier Field the week of the game to help acclimate his players to the venue.
Northern Illinois athletic director Jeff Compher said the school has sold over 40,000 tickets to the game as of Tuesday and are 13,000 tickets ahead in sales from this time last year.
"Our goal is to sell this thing out," Compher said. "I think we can do that with our great partners from Iowa who are working alongside us to help market this game."
Doeren and his players are excited for a second opportunity to play in the NFL stadium.
"I think we all cherish the moment," said offensive lineman Logan Pegram. "For every single one of us, that's been one of our goals ever since we were little kids."
When the Huskies borrow the Bears field on Sep. 1, they will begin the quest to repeat as Mid-American Conference champions. The Huskies boasted an 11-3 record last year and ended the season on a nine-game winning streak that included victories over Ohio in the MAC championship and Arkansas State in the GoDaddy.com Bowl.
After the success of last season, defensive end and Glenview-native Sean Progar said he and his teammates now understand what it takes to win a championship.
"The guys know what kind of work we need to put in and we've been doing it this summer," Progar said.
Doeren won the conference crown in his debut season as an NCAAA head coach, and expectations are high in Dekalb with the former Wisconsin assistant settled into his job.
"A year ago, he was new to NIU," Compher said. "He came in and in his first year got us something that we hadn't had in 20 years and that's a football championship."
This season will be different, however, as Doeren said his team will have a target on its back.
"We know we'll get everyone's best," he said. "We know we won't sneak up on anybody. Last year was great, but it doesn't mean anything when it comes to winning a game this year.
" ... It's fun to celebrate the past and learn from the past, but it's more fun to create what's going to be in front of us."