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Illinois State offensive lineman Jermaine Barton exits the team bus and heads into the team's hotel, the Westin Stonebriar Jan. 7 in Frisco, Texas. A few days later, the Redbirds faced North Dakota State for the FCS national championship, but lost 26-24.

FRISCO, Texas — A tollway automobile accident delayed the Illinois State football team's arrival at the Westin Stonebriar hotel until about 8 p.m. Wednesday.

That did not dim the Redbirds' excitement as preparations in Texas officially began for Saturday's noon FCS national championship game against North Dakota State at Toyota Stadium.

Frisco mayor Maher Maso, NCAA representatives and Mrs. Frisco (sash and all) greeted the ISU buses as the Redbirds entered their hotel headquarters with the school fight song blaring.

"It's great. We're excited to finally be here," defensive end Teddy Corwin said. "It's been a long wait (since the last game Dec. 20). It's getting a little more real that we're actually here. We're ready to get to work and get this game in."

ISU punter CJ Laros said the Redbirds have been looking forward to getting to Texas since returning to practice the Monday after Christmas.

"It's exciting," said Laros. "We said during the week it would sink in once we got here. Yeah, it's starting to sink in. We're starting to feel good, starting to feel confident."

While the Redbirds could be excused for being a bit wide-eyed, North Dakota State is making its fourth straight appearance in the title game. From Fargo to Frisco has become an annual trek for the Bison.

"I don't see it as a disadvantage," ISU senior safety Dontae McCoy said. "They have been there the last three years so they are definitely used to the routine.

"But as long as we maintain the focus we've had all year ... We'll treat this game like the previous 14 games, with the same preparation and same focus we have whenever we travel."

NDSU coach Chris Klieman said the familiarity of Frisco "obviously benefits us. We know the practice facility, we know the locker room, we know the whole game day habits they do. I guess that would be an advantage only because some of our kids have done this before.

"But in the same respect, we've got so many guys that all they were was on the football team. Some of them were in the stands as redshirts, some of them were in backup roles and not playing. I don't know how those kids are going to respond to be the lights being on them. Once the ball is kicked off on Saturday, the experience factor is pretty much out. It's now who executes the best."

Central Catholic High School graduate Chris Highland, the Redbirds' All-American long snapper, grew up an ISU fan. To be part of a Redbird team about to play for a national championship is "something I never would have dreamed," he said.

"I'm very fortunate and very blessed we're in this opportunity," Highland added. "But by no means is our work done yet. Preparations have gone good this week. I think we're ready. I think we're ready to finish the deal."

All-American tailback Marshaun Coprich also is encouraged by ISU's state of mind as Saturday approaches.

"We're in a great place right now," Coprich said. "Everybody is getting back to their momentum. Everybody is picking up the tempo. It's going great, actually better than I thought. We're going to be ready to play Saturday."



Reporter for Lee Enterprises Central Illinois.

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