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NATHAN HARMAN might have graduated just before Monticello football won its first state title last November, but the Northern Illinois redshirt freshman still is making an impact on the gridiron:

What has this offseason been like?

The big thing is we have a new staff this year. With the new staff, it doesn’t really change the mindset. My mindset’s always been, from the start, to work hard, earn a spot on the field. Last year I got into one game (against Eastern Michigan) and redshirted the rest of the year. And the goal for this year is to play in every game on special teams. It’s a grind right now, but the team and I feel really good about this season. We’re kind of in that underdog phase that we always are in. The big thing is we’re going to shock a lot of people.

How do you feel about your decision to attend Northern Illinois?

It was a big decision to come up here because I had a few more places (looking at me). Northern just felt like home. It’s an atmosphere to where it kind of just felt like Monticello. It just feels like home. That was a really big thing for me. College is obviously a new experience for every senior that comes out of high school, usually leaving their hometown and going somewhere else, so I kind of just wanted that hometown feel.

What changes did you see from the high school game to the college game?

It was a lot faster than high school, that’s for sure. You’ve just got to get that first play under your belt because, really, you can practice all you want, but you’re not going to know (if you can hang) until you’re actually on the field and you actually do something. I’m glad I got that taste last year so I could come into this year better prepared.

NIU faced Utah on Saturday and has Nebraska and Vanderbilt on deck. What’s it like playing those high-profile opponents?

We don’t really shy away from anyone. We want to play the best. We want to play the big schools because a lot of people doubt us. A lot of people, they don’t look at NIU as a big-time school that can come in and dominate.

Do you keep up with Monticello football?

I’ve got to take it to Coach (Cully) Welter. He instilled a lot in me just as a man. ... I talk to him here and there, especially last year, too. Just picking his brain on things I could do just to improve myself up here. I love to stay in touch with some of the guys, too, back home and hear about some of their success. And, obviously, the state championship last year really just topped it off from my class leaving. There was a little bad blood with Byron, and we got payback last year. ... I did make the trip down there, so I got to be on the sidelines cheering. I was just really happy for not only the team and Coach Welter, but the whole town.

Prep Sports Coordinator

Colin Likas is prep sports coordinator at The News-Gazette. His email is clikas@news-gazette.com, and you can follow him on Twitter (@clikasNG).