With Scholarship Offers on the Table, Riley Nowakowski Walks On to Wisconsin
On January 17, Wisconsin assistant coach Chris Haering stopped by Marquette University High School to check in on Riley Nowakowski and his potential timetable for his college destination.
As reported by BadgerBlitz.com's Jon McNamara in July, Nowakowski received a preferred walk-on opportunity to the only Division I program in the state. The standout linebacker for the Hilltoppers whittled his choices down to UW and a scholarship offer from New Mexico State.
Since the special teams coach was in town, and Nowakowski "pretty much decided on Wisconsin," why not just tell him right there?
"Well he definitely was a little surprised," Nowakowski told AllBadgers.com on Friday. "I think he thought I wasn't going to make a decision that quickly or on the spot because I'd been talking to him about making a decision before. So I thought he thought it would be a little bit farther out, but he was definitely really happy to have me. Just talking about what I'm going to do for the team, and what I'm hopefully going to do for the team. He said they're super excited to have me and hopefully integrate me into the system well."
After verbally committing during that conversation, at school, what did his parents think, and when did that conversation take place? That came after classes ended for the day.
"I called up my mom and told her that I committed to Wisconsin," Nowakowski said. "She was really happy for me. Her and my dad are both extremely happy for me because they also both went to Wisconsin so kind of been in the family so they're definitely excited. They're big Badgers fans so they're happy for me, but they would have been happy for me no matter where I went. Just a little extra bonus that it was Wisconsin."
So like his parents and older sister, Nowakowski will head to Madison for college. He publicly announced his decision to accept his preferred walk-on opportunity with Wisconsin on Jan. 22, becoming yet another in-state standout to enter the football program without a scholarship.
Among other Badgers that have traveled the same path in this tradition include current defensive coordinator Jim Leonhard, safety Chris Maragos, three-time NFL defensive player of the year J.J. Watt and linebacker Joe Schobert. For that matter, Marquette University High School has also produced Wisconsin walk-ons such as running back Dare Ogunbowale and linebacker Marcus Trotter -- both of whom emerged as significant contributors to the team.
Programs like New Mexico State, Northern Illinois, Air Force, Army, Navy and several Ivy League programs gave him the chance to play college football at the next level. Even with a walk-on offer from Stanford in the cards as well, the possibility to become part of the home-state program was just too much to pass up.
"Given the opportunity to have the chance to play football for the Badgers has always been a dream of mine," Nowakowski said. "When I had the opportunity, I figured I can't let it go to waste."
Even Ogunbowale, who just wrapped up his 2019 season playing for the NFL's Tampa Bay Buccaneers, commented on Nowakowski's decision to commit to Wisconsin.
However, the prep linebacker did not notice Ogunbowale's tweet until the day after the public announcement.
"I was actually pretty surprised," Nowakowski said, who noted Ogunbowale has come to a few Marquette games and practices. "He's a pretty big-time guy being in the NFL and everything so I was just awestruck. I actually didn't know that he commented on my tweet until I was sitting in mass on Thursday. One of my friends said, 'You see Dare comment on your post?' I was like, 'No way!'
"I had to go check for myself, and I screenshotted it. I was so excited. I was like, 'I gotta keep this.'"
Along with claiming WFCA large school all-state honors, Nowakowski also received the Wisconsin Sports Network's John Anderson Award, given annually to "the most outstanding senior linebacker in Wisconsin." On the offensive side of the ball, WisSports.net also reported 33 carries for 289 yards and six touchdowns during the 2019 season. As of now, it appears the 6'3, 230-pounder will be play either at inside or outside linebacker for the Badgers.
For that matter, Nowakowski will join high school teammate, offensive lineman Sean Timmis, as Wisconsin walk-ons in the class of 2020. The latter officially sent in his national letter of intent during December's early signing period, and he found out about the linebacker's decision later on Jan. 17.
"I think I told him probably the next period after I committed," Nowakowski said. "He was excited. He was happy for me and excited to play four more years with me because we've been friends since fifth grade when we started playing football together. So to have another four years on to that, that'll be a lot of fun."