AURORA | For Mukendi Wa-Kalonji, earning a scholarship to play football in college more than just fulfilled a dream, it was a necessity.
With the financial challenges of being part of a family with six children, attending college might not have been possible had the Grandview High School senior not been able to find a way to get a scholarship.
Fortunately, the standout defensive end was able to parlay his hard work into a scholarship offer from Colorado State, which Wa-Kalonji finalized with a signature Wednesday as one of a double-digit number of Aurora Division I-bound players who took advantage of the early Signing Day.
“My dad always taught me to work hard and finally the work has paid off,” Wa-Kalonji told the Sentinel a few hours after he signed his paperwork.
“My sister just went off to college and the family has to pay for her and they couldn’t pay for another person right now,” he added. “I just had to work my butt off so they could have a couple of more years to earn money for my brothers. Me getting this scholarship is a huge help financially.”
Wa-Kalonji — a 6-foot-5, 220-pounder — had offers from Colorado State and Nevada in front of him over the summer and made the choice in June to verbally commit to the Rams, who gave him the chance to play the game and stay close to his family.
He was part of a group of six Colorado high school players to sign with Colorado State Wednesday, a group that includes two more locals in Regis Jesuit’s Clay Nanke and Eaglecrest’s Langston Williams. Wa-Kalonji’s Grandview teammate, Trevyn Heil, signed with Nevada.
“I think we have diamonds in the state,” Colorado State coach Steve Addazio said in his press conference recapping the Colorado State class.
Grateful to even be able to play his senior season in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, Wa-Kalonji finished fourth on Grandview with 34 tackles in seven games. He earned All-Centennial League first team honors and made CHSAA’s All-Colorado first team.
The importance of his family is why it was easy for Wa-Kalonji to pick out by far his most memorable moment of his senior season.
On one play in the Wolves’ Centennial League contest against Smoky Hill Oct. 30 at Legacy Stadium — a 49-21 Grandview victory — Wa-Kalonji lined up at nose guard, looked to one side and saw sophomore brother Mulumba on one side and freshman brother Nkongolo on the other side. The three ended up at the ballcarrier at the same time and shared a tackle they will never forget.
“We all got in on a tackle together and we were ecstatic. It was amazing to have my brothers playing with me,” recalled Wa-Kalonji, who believes his brothers can be better than he is at this point by the end of their high school careers.
Wa-Kalonji — who made 73 tackles, including three sacks, in 21 career games of varsity action for coach John Schultz’s Wolves — said the Rams value his speed and pass rushing ability on the outside and hope to have his game weight at 230 pounds.
He is eager to get to work in Fort Collins and hopes to graduate early and head up their to begin to work out with the team in March. Wa-Kalonji’s goal is to play football professionally, but is interested in engineering when his playing career is over.
“I’m just trying to get there early and have a little bit of an advantage,” Wa-Kalonji said. “I’m trying to make it big and I have a dream I’m trying to achieve, so I’m trying to do whatever I can to make it happen.”
Courtney Oakes is Sentinel Colorado Sports Editor. Reach him at 303-750-7555 or [email protected] Twitter: @aurorasports. IG: Sentinel Prep Sports