If you’re looking for Joe Ngata, check the lists of top national recruits – or try the library.
That’s where the Folsom High School football star is spending much of his time these days, when he’s not on the football field, in the weight room or with family. Some days he visits the library multiple times, as the receiver feeds his brain with reading, research or online classes, a forward thinker who happens to be a fast-forward athlete.
A 6-foot-4, 210-pound senior known for his speed, hands, work ethic and results, Ngata last week gave a verbal commitment to play on scholarship at Clemson, winners of the national championship following the 2016 season.
Ngata is in the midst of his second online course this summer to accelerate his path to the big time. He plans to graduate early at Folsom, in the winter, so he can enroll at Clemson in time for spring drills and get a jump start on competition for a starting spot.
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“I love the library,” Ngata said. “It’s one of my favorite places to go. It’s something my parents instilled in us a long time ago. I’ve taken an economics class and now doing an English class. If you don’t work hard, you won’t get where you want to be.”
Clemson has been so good over the years that it has not ventured into California, an otherwise fertile recruiting hotbed, in decades.
Ngata is Clemson’s first California signee since quarterback Davey Coggin in 1995. Ngata also had offers from storied programs such as Alabama, Auburn, Florida State, Michigan, Ohio State, Nebraska, Notre Dame, Penn State, USC and Washington, among others.
For now, Ngata’s primary football focus is Folsom, including practices, a scrimmage against Pleasant Grove on Aug. 11, and the highly anticipated showdown against national powerhouse De La Salle in Concord on opening night Aug. 17.
“Practice is going well but we have some things to clean up,” Ngata said. “We’re excited about the season, to play De La Salle. The season is so close and everyone is anxious.”
Ngata was The Bee’s Player of the Year last season, and The Bee’s Offensive Player of the Year is also back for Folsom – quarterback Kaiden Bennett. The Bulldogs have 15 returning starters from its 16-0 CIF State championship team.
Ngata caught 81 passes for 1,779 yards and 25 touchdowns in 2017, dominating by racing past defenders or snagging the ball in tight coverage.
Ngata is the best prep receiver the region has seen in at least the last 30 years. The only other area receiver to be recruited this intensely on a national scope was Donte’ Stallworth of Grant in the late 1990s.
Stallworth excelled at Tennessee and was a first-round NFL draft pick.
Ngata is on the short list of all-time greatest area players, too, one that includes past Folsom stars Jake Browning, now preparing for his fourth season as a starter at Washington, and tackle Jonah Williams, a preseason All-American and projected first-round NFL draft pick next spring.
Browning and Williams – stalwarts on Folsom’s 16-0 team in 2014 – also graduated early to get a jump on the college game.
Folsom coach Kris Richardson said Ngata is as fine an athlete as he has experienced as a player or coach.
“Just an incredible player and leader, a freak of nature,” Richardson said.
A real catch
The Bee’s Joe Davidson takes a look at some of the area’s greatest prep receivers:
Jack Lasner, Mira Loma, Class of 1968: Top player on Matadors’ greatest 10-0 team; winning titles meant throwing coaches into pool.
Jerry Manuel, Cordova, 1971: If not for baseball, would have gone to UCLA to play receiver; managed in majors.
Dan Farrell, Christian Brothers, 1974: In era of the run, CB threw and Farrell set regional marks, earned national honors.
Kevin Fontes, Valley, 1977: Receiving marks stood for years, caught spirals from Marshall Sperbeck for this new school.
Mark Young, Cordova, 1983: Blazing speed, personality; recruited by Sacramento State to beat UC Davis, doing so twice.
Bart Greene, Delta, 1986: Small-school marvel with 181 career receptions, 2,726 career yards; great hands, routes.
Brian Brown, Yuba, 1988: Made diving catches in double coverage in rain; career 3,185 yards remains section record.
Donte’ Stallworth, Grant, 1997: Raced past corners who knew he was going deep; great hands, focus, speed.
Matt Barnes, Del Campo, 1997: Not just a basketball marvel; used 6-8 frame to score 43 career TDs.
Paris Warren, Del Campo, 2001: Bee Player of the Year led a section-title team; son of same name now at Grant.
Austin Collie, Oak Ridge, 2003: Dominated all facets; tireless as program’s greatest player; Bee Player of Decade.
Tyler Trosin, Folsom, 2010: Set NorCal touchdown reception records and teamed with Dano Graves for CIF State title team.
Joe Ngata, Folsom, 2018: Could be the best of this bunch with size, speed, hands, power; only Stallworth of Grant was similarly recruited.