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Four-fifths of O-line returns

Published: Tuesday, Aug. 27, 2013 5:39 p.m. CDT
Monica Maschak - Sycamore Offensive Linemen Derek Stenberg (left), Danie Coovert, Justing Bolander and Evan Short.

Sycamore junior center Daniel Coovert remembers only a single instance where things didn’t go smoothly for the Spartans’ offensive line last season.

In Week 6 of the regular season, the Spartans offense was shut out for the only time all season in a 13-0 loss at home to Morris. Sycamore posted only 134 yards of offense and it was the lowest offensive output all year for a team that scored 26-plus points in six of 11 games.

“There was really only one bump in the road with the offensive line – the Morris game we got in some bickering,” Coovert said. “Other than that, we improved on running and pass blocking throughout the year.”

A unit that featured only one senior last season eventually turned into one of Sycamore’s strengths in 2012.

The line of Coovert, Justin Bolander, Evan Short, Derek Stenberg and Martin Malone helped fortify Sycamore as one of the best run offenses in the Northern Illinois Big 12 Conference. Behind them, running back Austin Culton was able to gain 1,412 rushing yards in 11 games on his way to being named the 2012 Daily Chronicle Football Player of the Year.

Now all except Malone return as starters for Sycamore in 2013, and it’s that mixture of chemistry and experience that could make Sycamore’s offense even more potent this season.

“You have to be experienced and know what you’re doing,” Stenberg said, “but you also have to have your teammates there to back you up whenever you’re in need of something.”

The camaraderie between the returning quartet of linemen extends past last season. Stenberg and Coovert are neighbors and both played in the Sycamore Youth Football League with Bolander. They all met Short as freshmen at Sycamore and have been friends since.

“It helps so much to know that you know what they’re going to do and you know how they play all the time,” Bolander said.

Sycamore’s offense found its stride near the end of the season as coach Joe Ryan continually called for run plays. The offense averaged 338 yards in its two playoff games against King and Montini, including back-to-back 100-yard rushing performances for Culton, who was featured in a more prominent role as the season went on.

“It was very enjoyable,” Short said with a smile, echoing the line’s preference for run-blocking.

All four returners said they are stronger, faster and more mature compared to a year ago. Stenberg is in his third season as a starter and Short also spent time as a sophomore on varsity.

And with multiple skill position starters returning for Sycamore as well, there’s a reason why many think Sycamore could be primed for a deeper playoff run.

“Coming in you have a little more of a chip shoulder knowing that we have high expectations,” Coovert said. “We have to keep playing and working hard.”

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