Wednesday, January 29, 2020

'I can't believe I'm going to the Super Bowl,' Niemanns bask in Chiefs' run

Niemann family basks in Chiefs’ run

5:48 am

When Sycamore graduate Ben Niemann was a youngster in a football family, his mother, Lou Ann, would inquire about his future.
His father, Jay, chuckles at the vivid memory from over a decade ago.
“She’d ask him what he wanted to do when you grow up, and he said, ‘Mom, I’m going to play in the league.’ Of course you always had to laugh, not knowing if it would actually become reality,” Jay Niemann said. “I don’t know that we ever knew it was going to happen until he went in there and made that final 53-man roster his first year.”
Now a member of the Kansas City Chiefs, Ben Niemann prepares for the Super Bowl with throngs of DeKalb County locals voicing their support.
Jay Niemann, now the defensive line coach for his home-state Iowa Hawkeyes, was NIU’s defensive coordinator from 2011 to ’15 and was part of five straight Mid-American Conference Championship Game appearances with the Huskies. His children, Ben and Nick, went through their high school years as Spartans.
“Sycamore schools are a great school system, and the coaches that dealt with our boys in all of the sports were good solid leaders and good people,” Jay Niemann said. “And a lot of the community members that we got to know and parents of some of the sons that played with our boys we got to know very well and still have relationships and friendships established with a lot of them.”
Nick, who followed in his brother’s footsteps to become an Iowa Hawkeye, was in the summer before his eighth-grade year when his family moved to Sycamore for his father’s job. He quickly made friends playing in the Sycamore Youth Baseball league and seamlessly transitioned to summer football practice. Ben was able to leap right into football as well.
“Coach Ryan’s definitely one of the best in the business in high school football,” said Nick Niemann, who’s about to become a senior for the Hawkeyes next year. “A lot of players, coaches and people I know have a lot of respect for him. It was definitely awesome to be able to play for him the way Sycamore does things.”
After following his brother to Iowa City, Nick felt comfortable with his brother taking him under his wing as a linebacker for the Hawkeyes, before making a jump to the AFC Champion Chiefs.
“Last year he was pretty much only on special teams but now he’s playing a lot more on defense,” Nick Niemann said. “Everyone knew what he was capable of, but obviously, coming in as an undrafted free agent, compared to some other guys, there might be some questions, but he’s proved himself. I know that he loves it there, and I think they have a good relationship with him.”
Not that it was an easy path for Ben Niemann to the Chiefs’ roster. Numerous dominoes had to fall. Timely production from the linebacker in 2018 preseason games cemented his spot.
Jay Niemann remembers the anxiety-filled chats with his eldest son as the Chiefs cut more players from the roster in the summer leading up to his rookie season before Ben made the 53-man roster.
“Every cut that you go through, you just hope that he’s not on that list,” Jay Niemann said. “And he was surviving those cuts one at a time and fortunately had some really good preseason games prior to his rookie season, and that got him to a position where they kept him on the roster, and it began with a lot of special teams opportunities and slowly evolved to what it is now.”
Jay Niemann had the chance to watch his sons’ games more closely than ever as NIU’s defensive coordinator, but missed time watching Ben and Nick during three years as the defensive coordinator at Rutgers (2016-18).
“In this profession, you miss out on a lot of opportunities to be involved in activities and events and competitions or games that your kids are a part of,” Jay Niemann said. “I certainly missed my fair share, although at NIU I was able to see a lot of the Sycamore games, which was really nice.”
The eldest Niemann, an Iowa State graduate, had a tumultuous offseason following the 2018 college football season, in which he went from Rutgers to Kansas to Wyoming before the final opportunity presented itself that he couldn’t pass up to coach his son, Nick.
After a cherished season that has allowed the family to be closer together than they’ve been in years, they’ve banded together to make trips to two playoff games. Lou Ann, Jay and Nick were there watching in the AFC Division Round when the Chiefs overcame a 24-point deficit to the Houston Texans.
“That was the weird thing about being at the game,” Nick Niemann said. “They got down so quick it didn’t even feel like they were in that bad of shape. It was so early, and you knew their big playmaking ability. I don’t think anybody worried.”
The whole crew was there for an AFC Championship Game victory in Kansas City as well.
“After the AFC championship, we were down on the field, and [Ben] just had a huge smile on his face,” Nick Niemann said. “He just kept saying, ‘I can’t believe I’m going to the Super Bowl.’ ”

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