SYCAMORE — This summer has been a balancing act for the Sycamore football team.
On the one hand, the team is returning a lot of talent and has nine three-year starters, the most Joe Ryan said he’s ever had in three decades of coaching. On the other hand, moving too fast and glossing over basics can hurt the growth of the younger players.
“We do have to be careful because you lose your depth if you go ‘All right, these guys know everything so we can go really, really fast,’” Ryan said. “Well, then those other guys that are supposed to be your depth guys, your subs and stuff like that, fall further behind because they’re not ready for all that. You have to temper it a little and that’s what the summer is for.”
Ryan said he feels the coaching staff has struck that balance to develop the young guys and accelerate the progression of the three-year starters, a list that includes quarterback Eli Meier and Daily Chronicle 2022 Football player of the Year Lincoln Cooley.
“The only good thing probably that came out of the [COVID-19] year was we had so many sophomores that either had to play for us or were able to play for us,” Ryan said. “We had nine guys that started either all of those games or some of those games. It’s my 30th year as a head football coach, I’ve never had nine three-year players.”
Senior linebacker Ethan Bode is another of the three-year starters, a two-time all-conference selection in the Interstate 8 who made 109 tackles last year, including 17 for a loss with four sacks.
He said the experienced team means the Spartans stay calm in pressure situations and are able to communicate well.
“I would say last year we ended on a good note defensively,” Bode said. “We have a lot of experience back, so we have high expectations to work as a team this year and figure stuff out in game-time situations. We want to be one of the best defenses. That’s the goal this year. State is always the goal, but right now we’re focused on being the best defense we can be and playing as a team for sure.”
Sycamore went 9-4 last year, reaching the Class 5A state semifinals and losing to eventual state champ Fenwick, 17-6. It was the fewest points Fenwick scored all year but still ended the Spartans’ season a win short of the state championships.
Cooley said the team has made some good gains in the spring and the team’s chemistry has been great.
“I think everyone here is good friends,” Cooley said. “We all know a lot about each other and that’s the most important thing, getting to know each other and having good vibes.”
Ryan said even with the team’s experience some younger players have made strides and should have an impact this fall. Gable Carrick started as a sophomore last year and will return to both lines, while Tristan Countryman saw spot time on the defensive line but has looked good in an increased role.
Sophomore defensive back Tyler Curtis has also improved a lot this year, Ryan said. He also expects wide receiver and sophomore Thatcher Friedrichs to contribute.
Behind Zack Crawford, who ran for almost 500 yards last year, the Spartans will have a new-look running back corps. Dawson Alexander is a three-year starter at defensive back but may see more time at running back, and Joey Puelo saw some time there before he got hurt last year. Diego Garcia could be in the mix as well.
“Defensively we’re working on putting in some new plays, working on developing the stuff we have and figuring out stuff right now for sure,” Bode said. “Especially because it’s the summer.”