The last two games for the Sycamore football team were the definition of a roller coaster, with a breakthrough win against Montini in the second round, then a gut-punch of a loss to Rockford Boylan in the quarterfinals.
The Spartans were 0-6 in the postseason against the Broncos but beat Montini, 16-13, in overtime. The defense stopped the Broncos three times inside the 10-yard line to get the win.
The following week, Sycamore led the Titans 16-7 in the fourth. Boylan didn't run a single offensive play in the fourth quarter, but scored twice on fumble returns for the 19-16 win. Sycamore outgained Boylan by 200 yards in the second half.
While the Spartans don't bring back much in terms of starters, there are about 25 seniors back this year, said head coach Joe Ryan.
"It's not necessarily that we're young, we're just not as experienced," Ryan said. "There are not as many two-year starters. A lot of our guys were behind some really good players. We'll be young in some spots, but there's a lot of seniors in spots."
Sycamore started non-football workouts the week on June 23 under the IHSA's Phase 1 return to workouts. Once Phase 2 gets the green light, Ryan said there are plans for full workouts in place. The team has the week of June 30th off.
"We always have the week of the 4th off," Ryan said. "I think whether it was at home or with school workouts it's good to have a week off."
Head coach: Joe Ryan
Last year's record: 10-2
What is quarterback going to look like?
Grant McConkey, who was on the varsity squad for four years, and started quarterback for the final two of those, has graduated. The dual-threat quarterback was elusive and both a passer and runner.
Ryan said he did want to anoint anyone in July, but said senior Caden Carrier is the first guy with a shot at the job.
"He's got a chance to be good," Ryan said. "He's really intelligent. He gets and understands concepts. And he really gets our concepts. That puts him ahead."
At 6-feet, 3-inches and 190 pounds, he's a different QB in most regards from McConkey, who was 5-10, 165. Ryan said he's more the traditional pocket passer, in the vein of the quarterbacks Sycamore had in the middle of the last decade.
"He's a big QB," Ryan said. "He's kind of in line with a Ty Sulaver or a Devin Mottet. He fits that mold. And if he plays as good as those two we'll be in business."
Players to Watch
The Spartans will have a pair of players starting for their third year on varsity this fall, Jason O'Donnell and Dylan Shuman.
O'Donnell was a force at linebacker for the Spartans, pairing with Preston Ruud at linebacker to wreak havoc on opposing offenses. He finished with 96 tackles, and also had a TD catch on offense, where he was a blocking tight end.
Shuman played on both lines, and Ryan sees a lot of uses for him defensively.
"You could do a few more things with him," Ryan said. "He's versatile, and with three-down linemen you can use him in different spots. As a defensive end, I like his ability off the edge. He might see time at more than nose this year."
And while only going into his junior year, Nathaniel Altapeter played 10 games at fullback for the Spartans and returns, as does one of Sycamore's top receivers from last year in Ben Herrmann for his senior campaign. Carsten Metzer returns on the line.
"We've got thirsty kids in this program that work hard for their turn and always step up," Ryan said. "We expect seniors to do that."
Newcomers You Need to Know
Aside from Carrier, incoming junior Xavier Gagnepain, at 6-2, should provide a target for whoever wins the quarterback contest. Another junior, Brody Armstrong will see time at safety and could challenge Carrier at quarterback.
And although 5-9, senior Hunter Alexander "could be a corner and receiver for us," Ryan said.
Ethan Storm did play some at outside linebacker as a sophomore but should see increased time this year, and senior running back Sam Etienne missed most of last year with an injury. He should figure into the backfield.
While the Spartans won't get a chance to avenge their postseason loss to Boylan, at least not in the regular season, they will get the chance to snap a six-game losing streak to rival DeKalb when the teams meet in Week 2.
The Barbs won last year, 13-0, with a late interception sealing the game in the annual rivalry contest played at Huskie Stadium.
The Spartans will also look to defend their Interstate Eight crown after tearing through the league perfect last year. Their closest league game was a 35-14 win at Kaneland, and they'll host the Knights in Week 3.
They'll start the year at Washington, not far from where Metamora native Ryan got his start coaching.
"There's a lot of familiarity for me but not for the kids so much," Ryan said. "But it's a great environment. Washington puts on a good show. Or at least I should say normally it's a great environment. We'll have to see what it looks like and what we're allowed to do this year."
An Early Take
The Spartans seem poised for the 12th playoff berth in the Ryan era, which enters its 17th season. And the loss to Boylan, especially after the emotional high of beating Montini, should provide an extra layer of motivation in the postseason.
As for repeating in the Interstate Eight, that first game against Kaneland will go a long way to determining the winner of the conference. But it wasn't the Knights who were second in the conference last year, it was Morris, which Sycamore defeated, 35-6, with a Week 6 battle slated for Morris this year.