If a throng of red sports attire crowds the downtown State Street area of Sycamore on Sunday, Feb. 2, it'll be because one of Sycamore's own is playing on the grandest stage of football.
Sycamore High School graduate and all-state football standout Ben Niemann will man his spot in the linebacking corps and on special teams for the AFC-champion Kansas City Chiefs against the San Francisco 49ers.
“Everybody has become a secondary Chiefs fan," Sycamore athletic director Chauncey Carrick said. "A majority of people in this area are Bears fans or Packers fans, but they’ve also become a Chiefs fan.”
The 49ers also have a local connection in Northern Illinois All-American safety Jimmie Ward.
Already, the excitement is palpable concerning the stage Niemann is set to play on. When Daniel Coovert, a Sycamore assistant football coach and a former teammate of Niemann, was in the Sycamore High School weight room Monday morning, he heard Spartans athletes talking about Niemann and the Chiefs.
“You’ll hear some things like 'oh I saw Ben on TV' or I opened up the weight room today and guys were talking about seeing Ben out there and having an alumnus playing in the Super Bowl," Coovert said.
For his former coach Joe Ryan, the longtime Spartans leader sees the circumstances that resulted in Niemann going to Kansas City as fortuitous. The Iowa Hawkeye graduate — Ben's brother and Spartan graduate Nick Niemann also plays for Iowa — has quickly gone from a special teams-focused player to an integral part of the Chiefs defense in his second year with 56 tackles.
“There’s a lot of misses on people and he went undrafted and in his circumstances, that’s probably the best thing that could have happened," Ryan said.
As Niemann got to pick his situation, Ryan said Niemann was able to make the best of his situation.
“Kansas City was ready to win and he’s able to be in a great situation under a really good coach (Andy Reid)," Ryan said.
Nick and Ben, coming from a football family — their father Jay was NIU's defensive coordinator from 2011-15 and now is an assistant defensive line coach for the Iowa Football team — Carrick saw the results of Ben Niemann's labor in a day-to-day fashion.
"There was never a doubt in my mind if somebody gave him an opportunity that he was going to make a team," Carrick said. “Watching him for three years at Iowa as a starter, that doesn’t happen by accident.”
Coovert, who played with Ben Niemann for two seasons, said there was a humbleness to Niemann despite his all-state stature on a 2013 team that went 12-1 and reached a state semifinal. The nature of the Niemann brothers' success, and how Carrick, Ryan and Coovert say that he went about it, is enough to get DeKalb County residents to support him en masse.
“Being in Sycamore there’s not a ton off Chiefs fans, but walking around now you see No. 56 Chiefs jerseys," Coovert said.
Becoming a more integral part of the Chiefs defense has been the biggest development for the Sycamore graduate this season. Ryan credits that to the linebacker being willing to devote himself to improving at whatever is asked of him.
“The crazy thing is and I think people need to understand this; he was an all-state receiver," Ryan said. "He was able to find a way playing a different position, but he’s an inside linebacker ... He just kept getting better at whatever he needed to get better at.”
As the Super Bowl nears, and the number of 56 jerseys began t trickle through Sycamore's streets, those who know Ben Niemann will have what it means to see the community represented at Super Bowl LIV in Miami in mind.
“It’s just really cool to see the trickle-down effect on the community I alluded to and something to pull for and someone to root for," Coovert said.
And while Carrick says he'd still root for the Bears in a hypothetical Bears-Chief Super Bowl, he said he knows which player particular player he'd still want to do well.
“It’s a surreal feeling to think we have a kid that’s going to be in the Super Bowl," Carrick said.
Super Bowl LIV will be broadcast at 5:30 p.m. on Feb. 2 on FOX.