Maema Njongmeta had a love-hate relationship with football when he began playing the sport as a freshman at Stevenson.
“I hate this because I’m not good at it,” Njongmeta said. “When I ran into something I wasn’t good at, it made me so mad, I was like, ‘I’ve got to go back and get better.’”
Njongmeta put in the work and eventually became a Division I recruit.
The senior linebacker verbally committed Saturday to play at Wisconsin.
“I feel so blessed,” Njongmeta said. “I’ve been walking on a cloud since Tuesday.”
Njongmeta received the offer that day. He thought it through, prayed and discussed his options with his family. He announced his decision Saturday.
He said the close location to home, the academics and the culture were factors.
“Wisconsin was on my list of schools I’d go to if I ended up not playing football in college,” Njongmeta said. “The fact that I got the opportunity to play football and go there is just amazing to me.”
He attended games against Rutgers and Nebraska, met other class of 2019 players and instantly connected with them.
“I could see myself bonding really well with them and spending four years and working for a Big Ten title and a national championship with them,” Njongmeta said.
The 6-foot-1, 215-pound Njongmeta had 134 tackles, including 24 tackles for loss and 11 sacks as a senior.
“That’s pretty darn good,” Stevenson coach Josh Hjorth said. “And that’s with everybody double-teaming him and knowing where he was at. He still showed his explosiveness and playmaking ability. It was a heck of a senior year.
“He’s a great example to many young men that you could start football freshman year and still have a great career and go on and keep playing if you want to keep playing.”
Njongmeta set his goals high as a junior. He consistently asked questions and studied film.
“I had really good people surrounding me,” Njongmeta said. “My coaches all believed in me and allowed me to ask as many questions as I wanted to. Allowed me to overanalyze everything. When it came time to play ball, they just let me play.”
He wanted to be “the most dynamic, most athletic, most explosive linebacker in Illinois” as a senior.
“That was my goal,” Njongmeta said. “I trained like that in the offseason.”
The offseason included training at Pinnacle. All the questions, film sessions and training paid off with the commitment.
Njongmeta is thankful for the time with Stevenson and excited for the next chapter.
“My senior season was unforgettable,” Njongmeta said. “Football changed my high school experience. It exposed me to people and opportunities I never would have had before. It meant a lot for me to be able to represent Stevenson and ball out with the Stevenson jersey.
“I am going to miss game days, but I’m also going to miss the practices and hanging out. It was a good time. I’m going to miss it. Now another thing is beginning.”