Maema Njongmeta feels like he has been living on a cloud for a week.
After receiving a Wisconsin offer from inside linebackers coach Bob Bostad on Oct. 31, Njongmeta, a prep linebacker from Illinois, barely wasted any time in pulling the trigger on Nov. 3 to become one of the Badgers’ newest verbal commitments for the class of 2019.
“Committing was pretty awesome, but when they offered me, I knew right there, pretty much that was it,” Njongmeta told B5Q last Tuesday.
Hearing Njongmeta speak about the offer—his mouth dropping open, his “heart definitely skipping a beat”—the excitement of reliving that moment is still fresh. A couple times during his conversations with B5Q over the past week, he used the term “unreal.”
With the offer, Wisconsin jumped to one of Njongmeta’s top two schools with Stanford, which had offered a preferred walk-on spot along with financial aid. If an offer hadn’t come from the Badgers, Stanford and Rice, which also offered him, would have occupied the top spots.
While on an unofficial visit to Madison during Wisconsin’s win against Rutgers two weekends ago, a feeling came through Njongmeta as he mulled over and prayed about his decision.
“I’ve searched my heart. I’ve searched my mind, and I feel so right with this decision. What’s the point in waiting?” Njongmeta said. “So I committed in the locker room. It was awesome. Got to be around the guys, everyone was hyped. I was getting intense fist bumps and chest bumps and it was awesome.”
Njongmeta first delivered the good news to Bostad, the person who initially notified him about the offer just days prior. His decision to commit there in the locker room caught the Wisconsin assistant off guard.
“I didn’t know the procedure,” Njongmeta said. “I was just like, ‘Coach, I love it here. I’m committing right now.’”
From there, a celebration ensued.
“He called all these guys over, called the linebackers over, and like everyone was jumping on me,” Njongmeta said. “Saeed Khalif, who is the director of player personnel, he’s 6’4, like 2-something, jumped on me and started dancing. Everyone was going crazy, it was awesome.”
During the visit, Njongmeta had the opportunity to speak with three current class-of-2019 commits.
“I was actually sitting with Julius [Davis] and Spencer [Lytle],” Njongmeta said. “I didn’t know who they were before. I didn’t know anything about them, and I just sat next to them because I was like, man, I don’t want to sit next to my parents. I want to talk to people, so I sat next to them, and we just struck up a conversation.”
“We were just chilling and [I also] talked to Leo Chenal, I think they’re having him at linebacker, so also my position group.”
For Njongmeta, listed at 6’1 and 215 pounds according to his Hudl profile, a connection formed when talking with those players. He had also been to Wisconsin before on the weekend of the Nebraska game in early October and enjoy the game-day atmosphere.
He did his homework not just on the football aspect—the culture, the NFL pipeline—but also the academic and school aspects of going to the university. It all came together last weekend.
“When I was down there, I was talking with some commits, some 2019 guys. I found myself bonding with them,” Njongmeta said. “We had a great time just bonding, talking the entire game and leading up to the game. I was just like, ‘Yeah, I can see myself coming here for four years and this being my home for four or five years and me enjoying and me thriving and becoming a better linebacker, becoming a better student.’ There were just so many positives I found on the visit and from my research, it just made sense to me.”
Njongmeta, who attends Adlai Stevenson High School in Lincolnshire, Ill., called out some current Wisconsin inside linebackers that hail from the Land of Lincoln that are within close distance to him. Those include All-American T.J. Edwards (Lakes Community), true freshman Jack Sanborn (Lake Zurich), and redshirt sophomore Mike Maskalunas, who attended the same high school as Njongmeta.
“They seemed like they were having the best time,” Njongmeta said. “There were just so many things that I enjoyed about Wisconsin like the opportunity to play in the Big Ten, the fact that it’s two hours away, the culture, the way they train their football players to be warriors. I just found myself like, ‘Hey, this is a big deal.”
Njongmeta said Wisconsin is currently looking at him to play inside linebacker at the spot Butkus Award semifinalist Ryan Connelly currently patrols. Adlai Stevenson head coach Josh Hjorth said the coaching staff moved their star ‘backer “all over” in their stack 3-3 scheme.
“He’ll be stacked behind a defensive end. He would be in subpackages as a middle linebacker. We would walk him up as a kind of stand-up defensive end,” Hjorth told B5Q on Wednesday. “He’s intelligent enough and athletic enough to handle all of that. Once we kind of realized people were keying on him and sending two or three blockers his way, we started moving him all over so that we could really free him up and allow him to make the explosive plays that he’s made.”
According to Hjorth, Njongmeta recorded 134 tackles, 24 for loss and 11 sacks. Watch the Hudl highlights, and you see a linebacker with an ability to get in the backfield and make some definitive plays. Hjorth noted that the coaching staff saw that explosive trait when he was a freshman.
“He got into the weight room with us, and he was extremely explosive with his squat and his clean,” Hjorth said. “He said we might have something here if we get him developed and buy in, and that kind of transferred over to the field. He’s just been given those natural talents to have explosive hips and explosive hands and even if he has one or two blockers on him, he’s able to get them off.
“He learned how to use his hands and techniques real well this year, and that obviously led to some pretty good highlights and gave him an opportunity to fly around on the field.”
Hjorth credits Njongmeta’s dedication to the game—with him first putting on a football helmet in August 2014 during his freshman season, then falling in love with the game his sophomore campaign—in helping spark his development.
There is a Wisconsin collection at Adlai Stevenson outside of Maskalunas as well. Former Badger Guy Boliaux, who lettered at UW from 1978-81 and was drafted in the 11th round of the 1982 NFL Draft by the Chicago Bears, is the defensive coordinator on the sophomore team.
“They kind of got a real good symbiotic relationship in learning about linebacker,” Hjorth said. “Then as it transitioned to varsity, it just kind of took off and exploded. Again, his dedication to make himself into a Division I athlete is remarkable.”
Hjorth also believes confidence also became a key aspect to Njongmeta’s development into a power five commit, as he saw his player’s realization that not only could be the best player on the field.
With dedication to the weight room and nutrition, the prep coach believes Njongmeta will be able to put on some healthy weight and become a “heck of a player” for Wisconsin.
It is fitting the Njongmeta chose Wisconsin, as at the end of his junior year, they identified schools that would fit Njongmeta athletically and academically. According to Hjorth, Wisconsin was a top 1, top 2 program in that regard.
“He’s a very very bright young man,” Hjorth said. “He’s dedicated to helping out others. He spent a lot of time here mentoring our younger freshmen and sophomores in school. “He’s part of Student Council. He’s an Eagle Scout. He has a 34 on this ACT.
“He’s just a very bright kid that has a heck of a future ahead of him and is going to make the Badgers very proud.”
Njongmeta mentioned Michigan State and Iowa had been in contact with him, with the Spartans calling while he was in Madison two weekends ago wanting him to come for a visit. There is no wavering from him, however, as he is solid to Wisconsin. He noted he is probably going to to take his official visit on Dec. 7, with the plan currently of coming to Wisconsin next summer after finishing out his senior year of high school.
“I’m locked in. No other visits,” Njongmeta said on Nov. 10 in a follow-up conversation. “I’m actually getting mail from some of these other schools, but I just kind of trash it. I’m set.”