College commitments are rolling in for Lake County football players

  • Warren's Malachi McNeal will play college football at North Dakota.

      Warren's Malachi McNeal will play college football at North Dakota. Joe Lewnard | Staff Photographer

  • Warren's Tommy Matheson, right, has committed to Princeton.

      Warren's Tommy Matheson, right, has committed to Princeton. Joe Lewnard | Staff Photographer

  • Vernon Hills' Jackson Wiegold (right) has chosen Ball State to play at in college.

      Vernon Hills' Jackson Wiegold (right) has chosen Ball State to play at in college. Mark Welsh | Staff Photographer

  • Justin Morris, Vernon Hills

    Justin Morris, Vernon Hills

Updated 9/11/2020 1:36 PM

He's lost track of the exact number, but Tommy Matheson estimates that he's been to Disney World between 15 to 20 times.

"Disney World is an obsession for me," Matheson said with a laugh.


It might also be a career someday.

"My absolute dream job is to be an imagineer at Disney," Matheson said.

Matheson is hoping to get there by fulfilling another dream first.

Last week Matheson, a 6-foot-3, 265-pound senior lineman at Warren, committed to play college football at Princeton. He will major in engineering there and is hoping that path will lead him to a long-term stay in Orlando someday.

"That's the goal," Matheson said. "As I moved through the recruiting process, the Ivy League was a place I really saw myself going. The campuses are all ridiculous with all the history and they are just beautiful.

"And they are all high academic schools and that's what I was looking for. That's what my niche has been during the recruiting process."

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Matheson never even contacted Princeton, or any of the other four Ivy League schools (Cornell, Penn, Dartmouth and Columbia) that gave him offers.

They found him through his Twitter account, which includes plenty of highlights of film on him, and prominently listed information in his profile about his gaudy academic statistics. Matheson boasts a 4.63 grade-point average and a 35 ACT, just one point shy of a perfect score.

"You post film on Twitter, and you try to make a brand for yourself," Matheson said. "For me, it was that I am a good student. And if you are good enough, they will find you."

Matheson also got offers from Holy Cross, Lafayette, Fordham, Colgate and many mid-majors in Illinois, including Eastern Illinois, Southern Illinois, Western Illinois and Illinois State.

But he chose Princeton for the academics, the strong relationship he had built with the coaches, and the campus, which he visited in February right before the COVID-19 pandemic hit.


"From the start, the coaches made it clear that they wanted me," Matheson said. "And I loved the campus, too. It just made sense for me."

McNeal to North Dakota:

Meanwhile, heading north made sense for Matheson's teammate, Malachi McNeal, a 6-foot, 217-pound linebacker for the Blue Devils.

Right around the same time Matheson was committing to Princeton, McNeal committed to North Dakota, a Division I school that competes in the Summit League, which includes a nearby opponent in Western Illinois.

"My mom (Britney Qualls) and I talked a lot about it and I just liked a lot about (North Dakota)," said McNeal, whose other finalist was Eastern Illinois. "It's a really good program where they win and they have a really good fan base. Everyone there loves football. And there will be games that will be close to home, and for the ones that aren't, they're all on ESPN3.

"I haven't been to the campus yet (because of COVID-19) but I did a virtual visit and saw the dorms, which are really nice. And the campus is really beautiful. I saw classrooms and the football stuff, like a new locker room, and I saw the stadium, which is a dome. I liked how the campus looked and I really connected with the coaches."

McNeal also got a very honest evaluation of North Dakota from two alums. The parents of Warren friend and classmate Matt Welder, Dana and Joel Welder, graduated from North Dakota.

"It was good to hear about the school from people who actually went there and weren't just trying to get me to go there for football. They want what's best for me," McNeal said. "They told me how much they liked it there, and that it's a really good school. That meant a lot to hear that."

McNeal then made his own video, which included throwback footage of his youth football days, to announce his decision on Twitter.

His post began with, "GPS done," as in his "search" for a school is done.

"Recruiting can be really fun, but at the same time, it's hard to say no to coaches, and it's hard to make these kinds of decisions," McNeal said. "This has been a tremendous relief, a big weight off my back."

Vernon Hills duo to Ball State:

Two other Lake County football players recently made their big decisions and lifted that weight off their backs.

Jackson Wiegold and Justin Morris, both seniors at Vernon Hills, have committed to Ball State.

Wiegold is a linebacker and Morris is a tight end.

"With the whole pandemic going on, I didn't' want to wait and see what else would happen," Wiegold said. "Ball State was my best offer, a full-ride and that is hard to pass up. It's great for my family. Plus, I had been to the campus twice, and I loved it both times. There's a great college feel there and it's really nice. And the coaches there did a great job recruiting me."

Wiegold, who will major in business, will stay at his current position of linebacker once he arrives at Ball State.

"I liked that too, they want me to play the position I've always played in high school," Wiegold said. "That's exciting for me because I love linebacker, I love being in control of the defense and being the guy who calls the shots and the plays. I like being a leader, I like that role."

Wiegold says that he and Morris will be stepping into a good situation at Ball State, which won its most games (5) last season in five years.

"We're getting a really good recruiting class, like Top 50," Wiegold said. "The program is getting better and better and is trying to turn the culture."

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