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    Purple Pride Abounds in Jacksonville

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    WATCH: Postcard from Jacksonville #6 | Gator Bowl Press Conference (Free)

    On the eve of a New Year and of the 2013 Gator Bowl, Northwestern and its tremendous fan base enjoyed a busy day in Jacksonville.

    * Monday morning presented the Wildcats with their first opportunity to step inside the site of their Gator Bowl competition and the home of the NFL's Jacksonville Jaguars, EverBank Field. The north end zone in the 67,164-seat stadium already was filled with Northwestern purple, complete with the distinctive 'Northwestern stripe' featured in both Ryan Field end zones.

    NU donned their home purple jerseys and filed into the stands for a team picture, an annual tradition at each bowl destination. In what might be considered a break from tradition, however, the 'Cats announced Monday that they will sport special matte black helmets when they take the field tomorrow, similar to those worn twice during the regular season but with a new twist:

    * Following the quick trip to the stadium, most Wildcats returned to the hotel while seniors Brian Mulroe, Brian Arnfelt and David Nwabuisi joined head coach Pat Fitzgerald for the final Gator Bowl press conference. The quartet fielded questions from Chicago, Mississippi State and Jacksonville media, reflecting on their season, experiences this week and the significance of a potential win on New Year's Day.

    * The last public item on the agenda for the squad was the Coaches Luncheon at Jacksonville's Prime Osborn Convention Center, a chance to bring together both teams and their supporters to celebrate their seasons and selections to the Gator Bowl. Northwestern's standout left tackle and two-time first-team Capital One Academic All-American Patrick Ward was honored by the bowl as a Scholar-Athlete Award recipient, while former Gator Bowl participants and longtime contributors to the sport of football Don Orr (referee) and Corky Rogers (high school football coaching legend) were inducted into the Gator Bowl Hall of Fame.

    As he has been known to do, Coach Fitzgerald fired up the crowd with his address to the group, giving special recognition to the wives of the Northwestern coaching staff for all they do to support the success of their husbands and the program at large.

    * As temperatures climbed into the upper 60's under sunny Jacksonville skies, Northwestern fans took to the streets in droves to watch the Gator Bowl parade. The route began at EverBank Field and covered the nearly three miles to the popular Jacksonville Landing location. The Northwestern University Marching Band made its first appearance of the week and rallied the NU faithful.

    Check back later today for more photos and tweets as well as a recap of the upcoming pep rally at Jacksonville Landing! Go 'Cats!

    Wildcats Take Timeout For a Good Cause

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    Two days before its Gator Bowl showdown against Mississippi State, several members of the Northwestern football team and spirit squad made time to make a difference in the Jacksonville community.

    Following a morning practice, the Wildcats and their counterparts from Starkville paid a visit to the Wolfson Children's Hospital in downtown Jacksonville to bring some excitement and holiday cheer to young people enduring a difficult time. It was obvious by the end of the 90-minute visit that both the 'Cats and the patients at Wolfson were greatly affected by their positive interactions.

    Representing the Wildcats were: WR Drew Moulton, SB Evan Watkins, LB Roderick Goodlow, OL Shane Mertz, P/PK Matt Micucci and DL Ifeadi Odenigbo.


    In each room, the Wildcats and spirit squad members managed to find a connection with the youngsters, chatting with them about their favorite sports and teams they root for, video games they play, foods they like to eat and other activities that make them smile. And of course, sometimes there is little need for conversation when a young person is taking in the presence of an imposing 6-foot-8 offensive lineman for the first time.

    * New Year's Eve Day will be a busy one for the Wildcats and Northwestern fans alike, with a slew of items on the agenda from morning till night. To kick it off, the entire team will head to EverBank Field for the first time in order to snap a team photo in the venue, home of the NFL's Jacksonville Jaguars. After that, Pat Fitzgerald and his team captains meet the media for the final time before kickoff and then join the rest of the team at the Coaches Luncheon and Gator Bowl Hall of Fame induction.

    The afternoon slate features a lengthy parade featuring marching bands and spirit squad members from both schools as well as a Northwestern-only pep rally at the Jacksonville Landing. While many in the city and around the world will be staying up late to ring in the New Year, the Wildcats will be enduring their usual "Friday" routine of meetings, movies and final pre-game preparations.

    BLOG: 'Cats Cut Loose at Latitude 30

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    Latitude 30 Photo Gallery

    WATCH:Postcard from Jacksonville 12/27 | D. Nwabuisi Post-practice Interview | Q. Williams Post-practice Interview

    Pat Fitzgerald's Northwestern teams have gained a reputation for putting on a good show in each of their postseason bowl game destinations and, after Thursday night in Jacksonville, that reputation may soon extend to the pre-game festivities as much as to what goes on between the white lines.

    The Wildcats took advantage of the hospitality offered by Latitude 30, an entertainment complex in Jacksonville offering bowling, arcade games, food and, as the 'Cats found out, a karaoke stage. After a quick meal, the Wildcats grabbed the mike and didn't let go for the duration of their two-hour stay at the facility, offering impressive renditions of everything from Backstreet Boys' "I Want It That Way" to Justin Timberlake's "Gone" to Boyz II Men's "End of the Road" and even some "Sexual Healing" as performed by running back Tyris Jones. After building a strong audience at Latitude 30 over the course of the 15-plus songs they performed, the 'Cats finished strong by showing off their dance moves to "Put a Ring On It" and "Gangnam Style" before leaving the stage to a standing ovation.

    Check out the accompanying video and photo gallery (yes, visual evidence!) to get a taste of what the Wildcats brought to Jacksonville Thursday night.

    Also, special shoutout to senior defensive lineman Bo Cisek, who went where no Northwestern student-athlete has gone before by live-tweeting the event from @NU_Sports, the official Twitter handle of the Northwestern Athletics department. Bo did a great job capturing the energy of the evening. If you enjoyed his witticisms, give him a follow on his personal account, @DaDoze55.

    * Friday Practice Notes

    * Northwestern staged its second practice on site at Jacksonville University Friday, going full pads for the final time before next Tuesday's Gator Bowl against Mississippi State.

    * In attendance Friday was former Northwestern men's tennis great and World No. 4-ranked, Todd Martin. A native of Hinsdale, Ill., Martin reached the finals of the 1994 Australian Open as well as the 1999 U.S. Open and now resides in Florida.

    * Following practice, the entire Northwestern squad made the short trip to the shores of the Atlantic Ocean, enjoying a beach picnic, volleyball and bags competitions, and a chance to rest under the sunny Florida skies. Temperatures today crept into the upper 60's -- a welcome setting considering the Northwestern campus in Evanston received its first significant snowfall of the winter over the last few days. Can't wait for all the Wildcats faithful to join the fun in sunny Jacksonville!

    Second City Offers First-Rate Ideas This Week

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    With Chicago's Museum of Contemporary Art serving as the site of Wednesday's Chicago Ideas Week "Making of a Champion" panel discussion, it was fitting to kick off the event with a poignant quote from Pablo Picasso.

    Picasso's quote, part of an introductory video screened before the panel began, stated simply, "An idea is a point of departure and no more."

    There they were, side-by-side on the warning track dirt behind home plate at the Chicago White Sox' U.S. Cellular Field -- perhaps an unlikely locale but as good a spot as any to publically display all seven of Northwestern's NCAA Women's Lacrosse Championship trophies together for the first time.

    The sight was enough to catch the attention of any media member, groundskeeper or passerby at field level, even for many of the several hundred Sox fans taking a pre-game stroll on the field as part of a marketing promotion who stopped to offer their congratulations or snap a quick picture with the national champions.

    Watch: NU at the Ballpark | Watch: NU On-Campus Celebration |
    Watch: NU at Evanston City Council

    It was just one memorable moment for the NU women's lacrosse team in what was a bit of a whirlwind week, during which the Wildcats shared their 2012 national championship trophy (and in some cases all seven) with their fans in the Northwestern, Evanston and Chicago communities.

    NU Coaches Share More Than Just a Sideline

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    Congratulations are in order for two Northwestern head coaches, Kelly Amonte Hiller of women's lacrosse and Stephanie Foster of women's soccer. Foster and Amonte Hiller coach their teams from the same sideline at Lakeside Field -- with the former patrolling the field in the fall, the latter in the spring -- and are veritable next-door neighbors in their offices at Patten Gymnasium, but as of Monday there is a new bond that links the two coaches.

    Kelly and Stephanie each gave birth to baby girls on Monday, July 11, the second daughter for each of them.

    The newest addition to the Amonte Hiller family is Lew Hughes Hiller, checking in at six pounds, 11 ounces. Look for her to join big sister Harlee as a mainstay in the stands at Lakeside Field when the six-time national champion women's lacrosse program takes to the turf next spring.

    Stephanie welcomed Etta Mae Foster into the world at exactly eight pounds, adding to a family that includes children Charles and Xiah. Etta Mae was just one day late for being able to enjoy the thrilling win by the United States over Brazil in the Women's World Cup -- an exciting two days for the Foster family, to be sure!

    Congratulations once again to Kelly, Stephanie and their families and we look forward to seeing the whole crew at Lakeside Field when the seasons roll around!