Tim Semisch knew he wanted to keep playing college football. But less than two years ago, he was a player in search of a team.
The Millard North graduate was completing his redshirt freshman season at the University of Nebraska at Omaha when the university announced it was stepping up to Division I and disbanding the football program.
“At first it was a shock. The first two weeks were kind of a scramble for everybody,” Semisch said. “After talking to the coaches and my family, I knew I would have opportunities elsewhere.”
That’s where Northern Illinois stepped in. A UNO coach recommended the Huskies take a look at Semisch and Donovan Gordon, a defensive lineman who also was a redshirt freshman at UNO.
Both players ended up at Northern Illinois. And on Tuesday, Semisch, Gordon and the rest of the Huskies step into the national spotlight as they face Florida State in the Orange Bowl.
“We had a welcoming party greet us (Wednesday when the team landed in Miami) and I told Donovan, ‘I don’t think we would have gotten anything like this at UNO,’” Semisch said. “He started laughing. It’s kind of the bond we have coming from D-II to here.”
Semisch, a backup tight end, has been part of two successful seasons at Northern Illinois. NIU, winners of 12 straight since losing its opener to Iowa, has won two straight Mid-American Conference championships, but it made bigger headlines by making the conference’s first BCS bowl game.
“We watched the (selection) show as a team and everyone in the room kind of lost their minds when they saw it,” said Semisch, whose parents and two brothers will be in the stands for the Orange Bowl. “We’ve worked really hard and we’ve had a chip on our shoulder all season.
“We felt we deserved it, but at the same time, we feel we still have something to prove that we deserve to be here.”
Semisch wasn’t recruited by the Huskies out of high school and had scholarship offers only from North Dakota and North Dakota State. Millard North won just two games during his junior year and five when he was a senior.
But at 6-foot-8, 266 pounds, Semisch’s size gets the attention of Division I recruiters.
“Six-8 isn’t going away. That’s something that attracts,” said Millard North coach Fred Petito, who played Semisch at tight end and defensive end. “He is a skillful guy, and he’s got a lot of toughness.”
Joe Tripodi, who coaches tight ends and fullbacks at Northern Illinois, said Semisch averages between 10 and 15 snaps per game. Semisch, who has played in all 13 games, is on the field in the team’s two-minute package and when it’s in the red zone.
Tripodi said Semisch has a definite upside.
“Tim is a very hard worker,” Tripodi said. “He’s gotten stronger. He improved his hands, he’s got very good hands. He made a great catch for us earlier this year against Army. It was a great one-handed catch that only Tim at 6-foot-8 could make.”
Semisch made that grab in the back of the end zone with two defenders in front of him. That’s one of two catches Semisch has made this season.
“He just hasn’t had a ton of opportunities,” Tripodi said. “But the thing about Tim is that we’ll have him for two more years. He definitely has a bright future at NIU.”
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