At times it seems all too easy for Ben Niemann.
The Sycamore senior receiver, possessing a 6-foot-3, 200-pound frame, routinely skies over opposing defensive backs for red-zone receptions. With breakaway speed, Niemann has taken several short screen passes for long touchdowns this year, most recently a 57-yarder against Nazareth in the second round of the Class 5A playoffs.
The combination of size and speed has made Niemann, an Iowa commit, the most productive receiver in the area over the past two seasons and now is an offensive threat that every opposing defensive coordinator must account for, often with multiple defenders.
Yet this wasn’t how Niemann’s prep football career originally was destined to turn out. He was sup- posed to be a quarterback.
But after switching to receiver when he moved to Sycamore before his sophomore year, Niemann and Sycamore haven’t looked back.
“A lot of my friends ask me about [playing quarterback],” Niemann said. “Sometimes I wonder what it would be like, but I’m happy with the way it worked out for me.”
Niemann filled in immediately as an X-receiver for the Spartans in 2011 and helped Sycamore to 7-4 record. But after the season, quarterback Ryan Bartels, now a redshirt freshman at North Dakota, was set to graduate, leaving the position open to a new starter.
Ultimately, Niemann stayed where he was and Sycamore went with senior Devin Mottet as the starting quarterback. Mottet, who led the area in completion percentage and threw 10 touchdowns and only one interception during the regular season, has proven to be a more-than-capable quarterback in his own right.
“I think [Niemann] was set. We had some discussions. Devin also played really well at receiver,” Sycamore coach Joe Ryan said. “It all ended the way it was supposed to.”
This year’s 11-0 record, the most wins in school history and only the second quarterfinal appearance ever, more than confirm what Ryan thought two years ago.
Since then, Niemann has continued to work at his new position. As a sophomore, he already was familiar with receiver routes because of his time as a quarterback, but his footwork and timing still were raw.
Niemann said he trained at Don Beebe’s House of Speed in Aurora this year and improved on how to move defenders and recognize coverage concepts.
“I worked on my speed and just route-running,” Niemann said. “I had never done any of that stuff before [Sycamore]. I never had to worry about catching a ball.”
In a twist of fate, Niemann is being recruited to be a linebacker at Iowa, another position he played during his youth football days, but gave up when the Spartans had bigger needs at safety.
All in all, the move has worked out well for all parties involved and it has Sycamore in the midst of the Spartans’ best season since 1978.
“I think it’s been the right decision for us,” Ryan said. “I knew he had the capabilities. It came to be on him if he was going to reach the heights he was capable of reaching. He hasn’t played his best football yet. I think there’s a lot of good football left in him.”
Sycamore’s hoping that includes two more games after today.