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Druley: Tri-Cities graduates prep for Florida State

Northern Illinois linebacker Michael Santacaterina of Geneva intercepts a pass during practice Dec. 8 at Huskie Stadium in DeKalb.
Northern Illinois linebacker Michael Santacaterina of Geneva intercepts a pass during practice Dec. 8 at Huskie Stadium in DeKalb.

DeKALB – Thursday marked Northern Illinois’ final football practice before the team travels to Miami next week for the Jan. 1 Orange Bowl.

As many teammates scrambled to finalize flights home for Christmas, the Huskies’ Tri-Cities contingent merely pondered a drive down westbound Route 38.

There still was plenty of urgency to beat the forecast snow, however.

Before the white stuff starts drifting, here’s a whiparound look at a few Huskies with Chronicle-area ties. NIU faces Florida State at 7:30 p.m. on New Year’s Day:

Sizing up the Seminoles: For the first few days after NIU’s landmark Orange Bowl bid was announced Dec. 2, players spent much of their energy defending the Mid-American Conference, the nonautomatic BCS qualifier they represent.

Once focus shifted to digesting film of the Atlantic Coast Conference champion Seminoles (11-2), the Huskies (12-1) observed what they expected from the traditional power.

“Top of the line recruits,” said Huskies left tackle Ryan Brown, a St. Charles North product. “They always get the best.”

Florida State ranks second in total defense (253.77 yards a game) and seventh in scoring defense (15.08 points a game).

Northern Illinois averaged 40.77 points a game during the regular season, ninth-best in the country. Defenders hope practicing against a rushing-intensive attack prepared the unit for what it could see from the Seminoles.

“They want to run the ball and we want to stop the run. That’s always the bottom line,” said linebacker Michael Santacaterina, a Geneva alumnus. “I know they’ve got a great group of running backs, a great quarterback, great receivers. A lot of speed, a lot of athleticism. We’re going to have our goals ... and hopefully come out on top.”

Winkel has it covered: Special teams standout Bobby Winkel still aspires to climb the team’s depth chart at linebacker. For now, the Marmion graduate from Batavia is fine with starting on the punt team and filling in when he’s needed on kickoffs and kickoff returns.

“Just putting my nose in wherever I can,” Winkel said. “I got into a bunch of games just because of blowing teams out and getting in every once in a while when they need me to get in being a utility player.”

Striedl gets fill at fullback: Jess Striedl (St. Charles East) mimicked Florida State tight end Nick O’Leary as part of his scout team duties during Orange Bowl practices. The Seminoles flex O’Leary wide as a receiver in addition to using him on the line of scrimmage or in the backfield as an H-back.

For Striedl – predominantly used as a fullback since late last season – adjusting to backfield blocking has been the biggest transition to college ball. He was a defensive end/tight end hybrid for the Saints.

“Totally different fundamentals for fullback,” Striedl said. “Keeping your feet moving while you’re going to make the block, while at the same time keeping good form. It’s a completely different situation and a readjustment from coming off the line of scrimmage.”

Striedl, who is roommates with Brown and former North running back Jordan Huxtable – who may try for a role with the 2013 Huskies – saw his most extensive action in a Nov. 3 blowout of Massachusetts. He did not record any carries or receive any targets.

“We go out for routes sometimes,” Striedl said, “but we’re not the most sought-after receivers in this offense.”

At ease? Nah: Brown, Santacaterina and Striedl worked out extensively with Chris Browning of Batavia-based Pro Force Sports Performance Training during the offseason. With NIU off from practice and team activity until an on-campus dinner Christmas night, they intend to renew acquaintances over the next few days.

As long as someone calls ahead, Browning doesn’t mind any additional Huskies, either.

“He loves Northern, and since he started training us, anyone that comes in from the team he just loves to have for the future,” Brown said.

Browning prepared former Geneva and NIU linebacker Pat Schiller, now with the Atlanta Falcons, for the 2012 NFL Draft combine. He also kept a regular fall training regimen with Brown’s older brother, Patrick, a veteran NFL offensive lineman who signed with the Miami Dolphins earlier this month.

• Kevin Druley is a sports writer for the Kane County Chronicle. He can be reached at 630-845-5347 or

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