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Compher an unassuming signee

Sycamore senior C.J. Compher signs his National Letter of Intent to play football at Northern Illinois University as Sycamore coach Joe Ryan and Compher’s mother, Cathy Compher, watch Wednesday in Sycamore.
Sycamore senior C.J. Compher signs his National Letter of Intent to play football at Northern Illinois University as Sycamore coach Joe Ryan and Compher’s mother, Cathy Compher, watch Wednesday in Sycamore.

SYCAMORE – C.J. Compher is unassuming.

It's the reason he kept his commitment to Northern Illinois quiet for more than two months after verbally committing to play football at the school following Sycamore's run to the Class 5A state quarterfinals.

And it's the reason why he never questioned his role in Sycamore's offense this season, despite his clear athletic talents and 6-foot-1, 240-pound frame.

He caught 17 passes for 250 yards and six touchdowns in 12 games as a senior. But, more times than not, he and fellow tight end Beck Ackmann played the role of offensive linemen for Sycamore's powerful rushing game, led by teammate Marckie Hayes' 1,792 yards and 17 touchdowns.

"In our system and what we do, he's going to get some catches," Sycamore coach Joe Ryan said. "But what we eventually went to with so much running, he was basically a glorified offensive lineman."

On Wednesday, Compher signed his Letter of Intent to play football at NIU. And, in his unassuming way, confirmed his father's job, as NIU athletic director, has no bearing on his football future. It was more about the family atmosphere he felt from NIU's coaches.

"That was one of the things I was looking at and maybe considering going somewhere else because of," Compher said. "But after I toured around there and sat with the coaches, it was really a no big deal type of thing."

"I'm just a lunch-pail type of guy," Compher said, restating one of NIU coach Jerry Kill's favorite axioms. "I'm up in the weight room every day just getting things done."

He said he felt comfortable that NIU wanted him to play the H-back and tight end positions but also felt good that he won't get any preferential treatment.

"I know coach Kill and know that wouldn't matter at all," Compher said. "And I wouldn't want it to because that's not what I'm about."

Compher, who has added 30 to 40 pounds of muscle since joining Sycamore's weightlifting program, had planned to attend several teams' camps last summer, including Western Michigan along with Hayes, who will walk on at NIU.

But after NIU's camp, Compher knew he had found a home and didn't go to the other stops.

Compher and Hayes will be roommates at the school for the next "five years or so," according to Compher.

"He could have had as many stats as anybody in a different system," Sycamore coach Joe Ryan said. "That's what makes him such a great kid. He's a D-I football player and he didn't go: 'Why am I not a bigger part?' because he knew, within our system, that he was a bigger part.

"If he didn't do his job, we were going nowhere."

Compher said that other schools saw him as more of a linebacker, but NIU's hybrid position fit him well.

"He can put his hand down and play a tight end and block," Ryan said. "But he's also got the skill set to be able to spread himself out and make plays in space and that's what he did for us."

Ryan said he understands how someone from the outside, who hadn't seen the Spartans play, would question how a player without eye-popping statistics would receive a scholarship offer from a Division I school.

"It's need-based at that level," Ryan said. "If they don't need tight ends or those type of people, he might not be going there and he would have to go somewhere else.

"If anyone has questions about him, they can call me. I can point out a lot of things on film where he was a dominating player off the edge."

Ryan and Compher both said Compher was at a crossroads when he moved to Sycamore from Washington after his sophomore year.

But he quietly followed the lead of his coaches, in the weight room and on the field, and that is the reason he earned himself a D-I scholarship.

"When I came here, I was really just raw," Compher said. "I had big hands and big feet and didn't really know what to do with them.

"I'm sure the outcome wouldn't have been as great if I hadn't moved here."

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