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Ex-Bull Dog eager for underdog shot

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Editor’s note: Columbus North High School graduate Matt Krempel, who starts at offensive tackle for Northern Illinois, has agreed to share his Orange Bowl experience with The Republic for four days leading up to Tuesday’s game.

MIAMI — Just as Northern Illinois is considered a big underdog going into its Tuesday match-up in the Orange Bowl against powerful Florida State, Huskies’ offensive tackle Matt Krempel will take on a similar role against one of the nation’s top defensive ends, Bjoern Werner.

“He’s an All-American who could go in the first round (of the NFL Draft),” Krempel said on Sunday. “I have done seven or eight interviews after practice and people keep asking me how I can do against him and what I have to do to prepare.

“My answer is that I feel capable in my abilities and if I use my technique and my strength, I should do fine.”

Florida State doesn’t flip its defensive ends, so Krempel will be facing Werner, a 6-foot-4, 255-pound junior, the entire game.

While Krempel is confident he will handle business on game day, he noted that the Northern Illinois coaching staff has made the Huskies very aware this week that they should portray confidence. “Every year, we get the same, old speech about what we should and shouldn’t do,” Krempel said.

“And how to present ourselves. ‘Don’t say anything bad about the other team, but sound confident.’ And they really have emphasized being confident this week.”

The players will have one more round of interviews tomorrow. All the events are winding down.

“Today was basically our last practice,” Krempel said. “We went out on a nice day, it was 70 degrees and sunny, and had music on the whole time. We switched jerseys with our teammates. I switched with our tight end, Luke Eakes, who is No. 83. Luke is a really cool guy.

“I wanted to play tight end my freshman year at Columbus North, but we needed a center.”

After the short practice, which was somewhat like a Friday “walk-through” during the season as the players wore only “squishy” pads, the players were turned loose. “We didn’t have anything to do after 2:30,” Krempel said.

He went back to the Fontainbleau Miami and discovered that things were getting intense two days before the game.

“Yeah, I would say it is. I came down from my room to hang out with my parents,” he said. “Everyone at the hotel was a NIU fan. I got stopped by at least 10 people. It’s starting to sink in.”

It might be sinking in, but Krempel is not nervous. “The only time I have gotten nervous before a game was at Iowa (this season’s opener) which was my first start. I think I will feel more excited than nervous.”

The work for the game, finally, is almost complete. “I would say that for this game, we probably have had 10 to 15 practices,” Krempel said. “Before we started game planning, we did a week of practice for our young guys to get ready (for next season).”

Do the players get burned out? “Yeah, actually that is really true,” Krempel said. “But we have had a lot of time off this week, so that has helped. And the coaches changed up our schedule and gave us a little more time away from it.”

Krempel said the experience has been everything he could have imagined. “I would say that it has been very much fun,” he said. “Some of our freshmen don’t understand how much fun it is. There are so many more things to do here than in other bowls we have been in. This is so much more exciting.”

On Sunday night, Krempel was headed out to dinner with his family, including his sisters, North juniors Tessa and Mara Krempel. “I would say that I am pretty close to them,” he said.

“When I am home, I try to take them out to the movies or dinner. And they are very supportive of me. A lot of times they end up being on TV in the crowd, and they like that.”

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