Three years ago Sycamore’s David Compher was a nervous wreck.
The then-freshman was preparing for his first playoff game, a road test against Kaneland in the first round of the 2009 Class 5A football postseason.
Compher had been called up to the varsity team along with sophomore lineman Brayden Gallimore. Together, they would serve as Sycamore’s long-snapper and holder on field goal attempts. A pressure-filled spot for anyone, let alone two underclassmen.
“We were taking a million snaps before the game,” Compher said. “We were thinking, ‘We have to be ready, we can’t mess up.’ ”
Compher recalls executing every kick smoothly, and Sycamore won its first playoff game in 24 years with a 40-13 victory over the Knights. The Spartans defeated Wheaton Academy, 42-0, in the second round before losing to Montini in the quarterfinals.
A lot has changed for Compher and Sycamore since that nerve-filled night in Maple Park. Compher has evolved into one of the Spartans’ starting receivers over the past three seasons. He has recorded five catches for 199 yards during nine games this year.
With Sycamore’s 6-3 record in the regular season, Compher became the first football player in school history to play for four playoff teams.
“Coach (Joe) Ryan discussed it with me,” Compher said. “It’s a pretty big deal I think. It’s exciting.”
Every high school football game has a unique feel, but the playoff atmosphere is different.
“There’s definitely a greater sense of urgency,” junior receiver Ben Niemann said. “It’s our second season, it’s one and you’re done, so you have to show up to play every day. You can’t have a bad week of practice ... or else your season’s over.”
Compher is part of the leadership group that will try to extend Sycamore’s season for at least one more week. He said he took in a lot as a freshman and sophomore, learning from the upperclassmen, including his brother, CJ, who was a captain at Sycamore during the 2009 season.
Now Compher’s game-day preparation and mentality are a little bit different than three years ago. Tonight’s game against King will be Compher’s eighth career playoff game.
“Going into every single playoff game ... I’ve thought, ‘I’ve been doing this for the past nine weeks, I know how to play football, it’s not going to change,’ “ Compher said. “That’s part of what I’d say to anyone younger than me or coming [into the playoffs] for the first time.”
In a sense Compher’s development personifies Sycamore’s rise as a perennial playoff team. The Spartans are making their fourth consecutive trip to the playoffs and fifth in the past six years. In its past three postseason trips, Sycamore has won at least one game.
Qualifying for the postseason is on the checklist for every high school football team. But it no longer is the end goal for Sycamore.
“[Making playoffs] is not an easy thing to do; it’s one of the hardest things to do, actually,” Compher said. “I think coach Ryan has built an amazing program that it’s now expected to make the playoffs. In our team, we believe that it’s not only the playoffs, but let’s make it to the quarterfinals or even the championship.”
And if they do get to Champaign for the state finals, nobody would fault Compher for being even just a little bit nervous.