After surprising sophomore season, Sycamore linebacker Kiefer Tarnoki ready for another leap

SYCAMORE - Even with the COVID-19 pandemic messing with the start of Kiefer Tarnoki’s sophomore season, the Sycamore outside linebacker still went from a project sophomore team player to a force for the Spartans.

With summer camps back for teams across Illinois, Tarnoki has even more time to prep for his junior year - even if his time is split between football and baseball.

Tarnoki said everything about the 2021 spring season, from it taking place in March to being just six games long to him starting Week 1, was a one-of-a-kind epxereince.

“It was surreal, that’s for sure,” Tarnoki said. “Obviously varsity is a big deal, and going up against Kaneland for our first game, I was like wow, I’m really here. I’ve got to do this.”

Sycamore coach Joe Ryan said Tarnoki took advantage of the few contact days the Spartans had in the fall to get on the coaching staff’s radar and stay there.

“Let’s be honest - he wasn’t really on our radar as a varsity player,” Ryan said. “In those fall contact days, he wasn’t up with the varsity. Then we had some injuries, needed to bring him up. And then it was one of those deals he didn’t allow us to put him down again. He’s gotten better every step of the way.”

Tarnoki had 39 tackles, seven for loss, to go with an interception and a pass breakup to earn a spot on the All-Interstate 8 first team. He was also a first-team selection of the Daily Chronicle Spring 2021 All-Area Football Team.

Ryan said all aspects of Tarnoki’s game are top-level. He said he was worried about what kind of physicality the sophomore would bring, but even there he was a strong threat.

“Everybody’s got these guys, but he works extremely hard,” Ryan said. “We’ve got a lot of guys who work extremely hard. But he’s also about a 4.5, 4.6 GPA. He’s really intelligent so he picks things up really fast. So he can play fast at all times.”

Ryan said Tarnoki’s ability to understand the game and where he needed to be made him keep his varsity spot.

“In high school football, if you can get them to be in the right spot, and again be physical and fast about what you’re doing, you’ve got a chance to be successful,” Ryan said. “It doesn’t matter if you’re a freshman or a senior. And he just has great enthusiasm for the game. You watch film, you see him all the time. In on plays all the time. Not because he’s doing someone else’s job. He does his job then hustles. He’s a great pursuit guy.”

Tarnoki has been splitting his summer between playing baseball and football. He’s a centerfielder for the Spartans and was a Chronicle first-team all-area selection after the baseball season as well.

Tarnoki said he is not far along in the recruiting process yet and is keeping all his options open when it comes to what sports he plays at the next level.

“I’m a junior and I still have time, but that time is going to catch up with me before I know it,” Tarnoki said. “The end goal is to have the choice to play. Whichever college works out more than the other is the one I’d choose. And if I could be a two-sport athlete, that would be really cool too.”

Eddie Carifio

Has been the sports editor in DeKalb since 2014.