Redshirt junior linebacker Bobby Winkel and the Northern Illinois football team are set to fly Sunday to San Diego ahead of Thursday’s Poinsettia Bowl against Utah State (8:30 p.m., ESPN). It will be a long way from home for Winkel, a Marmion alumnus from Batavia, but after missing most of the season with various injuries, he’s glad to be going anywhere. Kane County Chronicle sports reporter Kevin Druley touched base with Winkel for the latest edition of the Weekend Chit-chat, in which Winkel addressed, among other subjects, his recovery and history of California travel. The following is an edited transcript:
Touch on your injury situation, if you would.
I got hurt in spring ball, [hyperextended] my knee, was out for the last two weeks of spring ball. Came back in the summer and then about halfway through our summer, we started our 7-on-7s and I actually hurt my foot, so that was no good. ... A guy went into a route and I went to cover him, stepped, and just cracked. It was a hairline fracture in my right foot. ... I missed about the first half of the season and then was able to come back the [Massachusetts] week [Nov. 2], started contributing again on special teams and have been doing that since.
How did the injury affect which coverage units you returned to?
I’ve been playing on kickoff, mainly, and backing up on punt team. We’ve had some good athletes, freshmen, who came in who were able to fill my spot when I got hurt. So it’s not fair to them to take them out, obviously. So I keep my role. Play on kickoff and do what I can, contribute what I can.
What do you do to get by during rehab?
Being out for a while was, to a point, depressing. You get down on yourself, you get bored, because you can only do so much watching film without actually being on the field. And that gets tiring. But once I was able to get back out there, you realize how much you love the game and how much you miss it when you’re not able to play it or really be involved as much as you’d like to be.
How challenging was it to move past losing the [Mid-American Conference] championship game?
You know, the loss was hard on all of us and leaves a bad taste in your mouth, but you watch the game, you move on from it, but you still have that feeling in the back of your head that you lost your last game. It’s not a good feeling, so we look to go out there this game and really put our best up against Utah State and put ourselves in the position in the fourth quarter that we want to be in.
Have you been to San Diego before?
Not San Diego. I’ve been to California a few times, because my dad goes out there for business. But more the Orange County area. Not quite San Diego. But that’ll be exciting. I’m looking forward to it.
Still keeping connected with Marmion?
Oh, yeah. I go out there a few times. When I was hurt, I wasn’t able to travel to the games, so I actually made it out to two Marmion games this year, which was real nice. I see Coach (Dan) Thorpe when I can. He actually came with me to my brother Jake’s game out at [the University of Chicago] one day, so I still keep in touch with him and my other coaches from Marmion.