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NIU looking forward to football game at Soldier Field

Updated: July 28, 2011 2:18AM

CHICAGO — The 61,000-plus seats in Soldier Field were empty Wednesday, in stark contrast to what Scott Wedige will find Sept. 17.

School officials expect a full house when the fifth-year senior and his Northern Illinois teammates step onto the turf to take on Wisconsin. The Elkhorn, Wis., native looked down from a luxurious suite where new head coach Dave Doeren and six of his veteran players were previewing the 2011 season with Chicago media and couldn’t help but let his imagination run wild.

“I feel like a little kid coming into an NFL stadium,” the 6-foot-4-inch, 310-pounder gushed.

“I’m a Packer fan, but just knowing some of the guys who played here. I can’t wait to go out on the field in a little bit and run around, just to get rid of that awestruck feeling. When it comes down to the game, I can actually just get down to business and work.”

And this game is good business for NIU, figures athletic director Jeff Compher, who had to guarantee the Badgers $1 million. A sellout should help net his program $1 million or more.

“I’d like to play here on a regular basis. I’d like for every class that’s recruited to have a chance to play here at least once,” Compher said.

The Huskies played Iowa here in their 2007 season opener when Wedige and several current teammates were redshirting as freshman and got to stand on the sidelines. NIU will meet the Hawkeyes here again next year for their Labor Day weekend opener.

“The size of the venue allows us a greater opportunity to add revenue to our department,” said Compher, noting that it provides yet another chance for the school’s 180,000 alumni living in the Chicago area to reconnect.

It will be the third game of the season for Doeren, who came to NIU from Wisconsin, where he was defensive coordinator under Brett Bielema.

“Obviously, we both have great insight into what each other does,” said Doeren. “The friendships we have, that will make it hard, but we both have a job to do. When the game’s over, it will be fun to say ‘Hi’ to all of them. Trust me, I want them to win every game but one.”

As for the matchup being in an NFL stadium?

“For a coach, I don’t think it means a whole lot,” he said. “For a player, it means a ton.

“Coaching for me, whether it’s a high school stadium or this stadium, once the game starts, I’m not gonna know where I’m at. You get tunnel vision on what you’re doing. But as a player, this is a dream come true, especially for the Illinois kids.”

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