Jonah Pace was one of the freshmen who grabbed the attention of Marengo football coach Paul Forsythe in summer 2017.
Forsythe had just taken over the program and could not help but notice Pace in summer workouts and preseason camp.
“We knew early on the ability he had as a young player,” Forsythe said. “We knew early in camp he was going to be a nice player for us. We knew going into his sophomore year he was going to play on varsity for us, just by the way he was challenging the seniors in the program at that time.”
Pace, a junior, continued working and getting better. And now he is headed to an NCAA Division I program after his high school career is finished.
Pace (6-foot-41/2, 240 pounds) committed to Central Michigan on Thursday via Twitter with the word “COMMITTED” and a photo of Pace in a No. 57 Chippewas jersey (his high school number). Pace also had offers from Eastern Illinois, Fordham, Illinois State, Indiana State, Murray State, North Dakota and Western Illinois.
“[Central Michigan] really stood out because they’re building a good program there,” Pace said. “The coaches are great. They are really going in the right direction, and I just want to be a part of it.”
Forsythe said in talking with Pace and his parents that the rigorous pursuit by Central Michigan coach Jim McElwain and his staff put the Chippewas over the top.
Pace said he frequently FaceTimed with McElwain, defensive line coach Justin Hinds and recruiting coordinators Adam Cox, then Keith Murphy.
Pace started on both lines for the 8-3 Indians; Central wants him to play defensive line. Pace, who also started as a defensive end as a sophomore, had a team-best 19 tackles for loss last season and was a Northwest Herald All-Area second-team selection as a defensive lineman.
Pace averaged 8.4 points and 6.1 rebounds a game in basketball as the Indians finished 27-5 with the Kishwaukee River Conference championship and a Class 2A regional title.
“Basketball helps a lot. My footwork is a main part of my game. It really helps me over time with my football career,” Pace said. “Throughout my career in junior tackle and in high school, I was always a good player and thought I had a chance. It’s a great opportunity, and I get to play at a great school like Central Michigan.”
Pace is the third D-I athlete off Marengo’s football team that went 17-6 over the past two seasons. Running back Finn Schirmer is headed to Minnesota on a track and field scholarship, and offensive lineman Jagger Ferden will play football at North Dakota.
“[Pace] plays extremely well with his hands. He’s really athletic. He moves very well and has great feet,” Forsythe said. “They see him as either a defensive end or, if he continues to get bigger, a defensive tackle. The first things people see are how he plays with his hands and his first couple steps. He’s quick off the ball. He’s going to be a really nice player at the college level.
“We’re really excited for him. He’s worked really, really hard, done everything we’ve asked him to do. He’s a great teammate, too. He loves our team, and the whole team really supports him.”