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Defending champion Spartans say they’re not feeling like the favorite

They won the conference. They made the state semifinals.

Their victory against Kaneland in the regular season ended the Knights’ 35-game conference winning streak.

But despite their litany of accomplishments in 2013, Sycamore football players and coaches say they feel like underdogs this year.

“I think we still have a chip on our shoulder,” senior linebacker Brett Weaver said. “I think we have a chip on our shoulder every year. Coach (Joe) Ryan tells us to have a chip on our shoulder. You don’t want to bask in your glory, or keep thinking about how you won a conference championship and stuff like that. It’s good when you’re in the moment, but once you get past that you want to go for bigger and better things.”

The team returns only four starters on each side of the ball this season, and Ryan, entering his 11th year as coach of the Spartans, said they don’t feel like this season’ favorites.

“The chip on the shoulder is they’ve heard since the end of the year last year, ‘Oh, all these guys they’re going to lose,’ ” Ryan said. “And we did. We lost some exceptional leaders, some great players, some great kids. But now they believe it is their turn. ... They’re not sitting back listening to anybody tell them they’ve lost a bunch of guys.”

The Spartans didn’t lose a game until facing Montini in the Class 5A semifinals, losing to the Broncos in the postseason for the fourth time in five years. They were the only team to beat Lincoln-Way West last year, knocking off the Warriors in the first game of the year and then in the quarterfinals.

But they saved the best for Northern Illinois Big 12 East Division play, winning every game by double-digits in a league that sent five of its six teams to the postseason.

“We’re going in to get better,” center Daniel Coovert said. “We’re going for another conference championship, of course. We’re looking to make the state championship this time, not come up one short.”

Ryan said the team boasts excellent depth this year to help soften the blow of 14 lost starters from last year. Speedy back Dion Hooker will take over at running back – he won a state title in the 200-meter dash in 2013 and was runner-up in the 100 and 200 last year.

Weaver, Coovert and Hooker all are three-year varsity players and are providing leadership and experience, Ryan said.

At quarterback, Ryan said junior Brett Bemis is the starter.

Ryan said the team doesn’t “feel like we are on top of anything right now,” and the players said they are trying to earn that feeling again.

“You just have to go week by week,” Hooker said. “You can’t take any teams for granted and just focus on one team at a time and work our way to the postseason.”

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