Devin Mottet didn’t know much about Ben Niemann when the then-sophomore was transferring to Sycamore High School from Texas in the summer of 2011.
Mottet, then the backup quarterback to Ryan Bartels, found out Niemann also was a quarterback and one thought immediately crossed his mind.
“I heard he was a quarterback from Texas and I was like, ‘Oh, I’m never going to get to play,’ ” Mottet said. “Because Texas football is better, you know.”
Mottet’s worry soon subsided when Niemann transitioned to receiver before the 2011 season. And now that Mottet has taken over as the Spartans’ starting signal-caller in 2012, the two have combined to make one of the most formidable QB-WR tandems in the area.
Through four games, the two juniors have combined for 402 yards and six touchdowns, including two scores in each of the past three games.
“They’ve spent a lot of time over the summer and in the offseason throwing to each other,” Sycamore coach Joe Ryan said. “You get the feeling that they kind of know what each other wants to do.”
Niemann and Mottet have formed a quick friendship, helped by the fact that the two are neighbors, living less than a block away from each other.
“We have a really good friendship, and we spend a lot of time around each other off the field as well,” Niemann said. “We know each others’ personalities.”
Niemann said the pair often will throw the football at their neighborhood park, but their competitive nature also extends beyond the field to ongoing table tennis and video game battles.
“He has the big advantage in pingpong,” Mottet said. “But I have it in Madden.”
Niemann was the area’s third-leading receiver in 2011, helping Sycamore to a 7-4 record. Ryan said Mottet has benefited early on from having experienced skill players around him, including three-year starter David Compher at the other receiver spot and senior Austin Culton in the backfield. Mottet has yet to throw an interception and has completed 33 of 45 pass attempts.
Yet big plays have been a consistent part of Sycamore’s offense through the Spartans’ 4-0 start, and many of them have come from Mottet to Niemann. Four of their six touchdowns have gone for 35-plus yards, including a 73-yard touchdown against North Lawndale and a 72-yard score in Week 4 against Geneseo.
“I think we knew that there were some capabilities of [big plays], but you can’t always assume, you’ve got to execute,” Ryan said. “A lot of times when you’re throwing there are a lot of things that have to happen and it all starts up front. We don’t get the time to throw some of those balls, we aren’t scoring. I think they understand that and I think they appreciate that.”
According to Niemann, some of those touchdowns have come as a result of pre-snap reads. Through verbal communication or other signals, it’s taken less than half a season for Niemann and Mottet to develop a comfort level that sometimes never is reached between a quarterback and receiver.
“We know what to expect from each other,” Niemann said. “There’s been maybe two or three touchdowns that we’ve had where just us two have talked before the snap and changed a route.”
And it probably is safe to say there will be at least a couple more before their careers at Sycamore are through.