SYCAMORE – Three years ago, Ben Niemann was just worried about making friends.
Entering his sophomore year, Niemann was in the middle of yet another geographical change, moving to Sycamore from Texas. It was the fourth time Niemann had changed cities, but it’s never something anybody – especially kids – ever gets used to.
So Niemann turned to football to help him get acquainted with his future school.
“The summer football program really helped me with that,” Niemann said. “By senior year, even right away as a sophomore I felt like I’d been playing with those guys my whole life so it’s just a great group of guys, we had a great team.”
Those social worries are long gone for Niemann, whose impact on the Sycamore football program has been felt since the minute he first put on a Spartan uniform three years ago.
This year was another step in the impressive upward progression of Sycamore football. The Spartans went 12-1, advancing to the Class 5A semifinals before losing to Montini.
Niemann was the area’s leading receiver, recording 48 receptions for 1,050 yards and 10 touchdowns, and also started at safety and returned punts for the Spartans.
For his personal accomplishments and Sycamore’s team success, Niemann was named the 2013 Daily Chronicle Football Player of the Year. DeKalb junior running back Dre Brown also was considered for the award.
“We worked so hard for where we got to, 12-1 is a great year and in the semifinals,” Niemann said. “We were probably the best public league school too, which is a pretty good accomplishment on top of that. We wish we could’ve gone to the state championship and a lot of us went out and watched it [Saturday]. We wish we were there, but it was a great season.”
While Niemann is now playing basketball with Sycamore, his future is football at Iowa. There he’ll change positions from wide receiver to linebacker.
“Since I’m going to be playing a new position I’m going to be working on putting on weight,” Niemann said. “That’s what I’m starting to do now.”
Niemann said he’s looking to add 10-15 pounds to his 6-foot-3 frame and will follow Iowa’s workout regimen once the Hawkeyes’ season ends. He’ll officially sign his letter of intent with them in February.
The Spartans amassed a 26-9 record over the last three years, the most wins during any three-year span in school history. Among those 26 victories, Niemann said the three wins over DeKalb at Northern Illinois’ Huskie Stadium and the home win over Kaneland this year in Week 8 were among the most memorable.
But overall, he’ll remember the friendships that began when he first moved to Sycamore.
“Just all the fun with my teammates, the relationships I’m going to have with them after all this is over and looking back at a 12-0 semifinal run doesn’t really get much better than that,” Niemann said. “Overall, it was a great three years with my teammates.”
DAILY CHRONICLE FOOTBALL ALL-AREA TEAM
Dre Brown, DeKalb, jr., RB Brown was the best running back in the area and accounted for 20 total touchdowns while leading the Barbs to their first playoff appearance since 2010.
Drew David, Kaneland, sr., QB David, a three-year starter, posted yet another solid season and led the area in touchdown passes and passing yards.
Justin Diddell, Kaneland, sr. DL A disruptive force on Kaneland's defensive front, Diddell was a big reason why teams often struggled running the ball against the Knights.
Gary Koehring, Kaneland, sr., LB Kaneland's defensive leader, Koehring helped the Knights allow only 105 points in the regular season. He was the Northern Illinois Big 12 East Defensive MVP.
Joe Komel, Kaneland, sr., OL Komel helped pave the way for a productive Kaneland rushing attack that continued to produce even after RB Jesse Balluff went down for the season with a torn ACL.
Sal Lopez, Genoa-Kingston, sr., RB Despite injuries, Lopez was G-K's go-to runner for first downs and on the goal line, recording more than 800 rushing yards and 16 touchdowns.
Devin Mottet, Sycamore, sr., QB Mottet continued his progress as a quarterback, throwing only one interception in the regular season. He developed into a dual-threat signal-caller with his running abilities between the tackles.
Ben Niemann, Sycamore, sr., WR / S The 2013 Daily Chronicle Football Player of the Year rarely left the field for Sycamore and will continue his career next year at Iowa.
Michael Stinnett, Sycamore, sr., S Playing alongside Niemann, Stinnett was a big hitter and part of a Sycamore secondary that rarely got beat for long plays down the field.
Cam Ward, DeKalb, sr., OL A fixture on the Barbs' offensive line, Ward helped pave the way for Brown and QB Jack Sauter in DeKalb's potent running attack.
Brett Weaver, Sycamore, jr., LB A leader on a stout Sycamore defense, Weaver will be counted on even more next season as one of the few returning starters to a team that allowed more than 30 points only twice this season.
SECOND TEAM Daniel Coovert, Sycamore, jr., OL Josh Hunt, Sycamore, sr., DE Mike Kuhn, Genoa-Kingston, sr., WR Jake Kuykendall, DeKalb, jr., LB Jaumaureo Phillips, Kaneland, sr., DL John Pruett, Kaneland, sr., WR Jack Sauter, DeKalb, sr., QB Evan Short, Sycamore, sr., OL Derek Stenberg, Sycamore, sr., OL Alex Snyder, Kaneland, sr. OL Eli Thurlby, Genoa-Kingston, sr., DB
HONORABLE MENTION Connor Bankson, Genoa-Kingston, sr., DL Brandon Bishop, Kaneland, sr., WR Cole Carlson, Kaneland, sr., LB Nick Feuerbach, Sycamore, sr., ATH Max Hernandez, Genoa-Kingston, sr., LB Riley Hurley, Sycamore, sr., RB Tyeler L'Huillier, Genoa-Kingston, sr., ATH Wes Leffleman, DeKalb, sr., OL Griffin McNeal, Genoa-Kingston, sr., QB Mike Mercado, Hiawatha, sr., QB Ricky Schumaker, Hiawatha, sr., DL