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Westinghouse senior Milan Netisingha vs. Kenwood.

By: Eric Van Dril   |   March 9, 2017

All Milan Netisingha II wanted was an opportunity to prove himself.

The Westinghouse defensive back was an all-state selection in 2016. Netisingha was one of the Public League’s best players during his senior season, but he’s considered undersized at 5-foot-9 and about 163 pounds.

Therefore, his recruitment was slower than that of many all-state players.

Signing day came and went, and Netisingha remained unsigned. He was still searching for the school that would give him an opportunity to prove himself.

“After signing day, Feb. 1, I was very discouraged,” Netisingha said. “A lot of my friends were signing. I’m looking at it (on Twitter), retweeting it, congratulating them. There were even some players — not to come off as cocky — that I know I’m better than. To see them sign with schools — no matter what level — (was difficult). I didn’t have any offers — NAIA, Division III, nothing.”

Netisingha added: “I didn’t know where I was going to end up. I didn’t even know if I was going to play football.”

All of that uncertainty changed last week, however, when Netisingha accepted a spot as a preferred walk-on at Memphis. He announced his commitment via Twitter on Friday, March 3.

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The Tigers went 8-5 last season, and 5-3 in the American Athletic Conference.

Netisingha said members of the Memphis coaching staff loved what they saw on his film. They invited him down for a visit, and Netisingha was impressed while he was on it.

“That was by far the best campus I’d ever been to,” Netisingha said. “When I went down to Memphis, it was like no other. I was the only one there. It was like a personalized visit. … It just felt really good. It felt like home.”

For Netisingha, ending a long recruiting process with a commitment to Memphis was very satisfying.

“It was a relief,” he said. “So many schools — even Division II schools — told me I was too small, I need to gain more weight or they wish I was an inch taller. It was just a big relief to know that there was a program out there that yeah, they questioned my height, but they are able to deal with it. They have no problem with it. And then for it to be a Division I school — and not just a Division I school, but a big Division I school — I couldn’t even explain (the feeling).”

Netisingha continued: “I know I can play with the best. … I just needed the opportunity.”

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Westinghouse played in the Illini Land of Lincoln, one of the Public League’s strongest conferences, this past season. It included Phillips, Solorio and Raby.

But where Netisingha saw that he has the ability to compete with top-flight wide receivers was with Team HEROH — one of the area’s best 7-on-7 passing teams. Netisingha regularly battled Brother Rice’s Ricky Smalling, an Illinois signee, in practice.

Smalling had a size advantage in those matchups, but Netisingha held his own.

“He’s the reason I’m really good now. Going against him all the time, it just made me a way-better player,” Netisingha said. “It was the best on the best. We would do one-on-ones, 7-on-7s. We’re friends, but on the field, we just knew we had to compete.”

Smalling was also one of the people who encouraged Netisingha during the difficult stages of his recruitment.

“He just told me that … (college coaches) are going to find me because I can ball,” Netisingha said.

Smalling was one of several people Netisingha credited for helping him get to the level he’s reached. Others include: his father, Milan Netisingha I, former Westinghouse coach Sinque Turner, Team HEROH president Chris “C.J.” James and Westinghouse senior Devon Myles.

Netisingha said he and Myles, who signed with McKendree University last month, would only do one-on-one drills against each other during Westinghouse’s practices. They pushed one another constantly. They helped each other chase their goals of playing football in college.

Netisingha’s recruitment is over, but he remains focused on improving.

He knows he must get bigger to succeed at the next level. He lifts twice during the school day — once during his gym period, once during his lunch period — and has also been working out with former NFL player Kelvin Hayden at Hayden’s gym downtown.

Netisingha continues to prepare for college football at Memphis. He is eager to prove that he belongs.

“I know from here on out, it’s even harder. It’s not high school anymore,” Netisingha said. “I’m still hungry. I know I’ve got to prove it. My goal is to go down there and earn a scholarship. I want to start. I want to play. I’m not satisfied with just signing. That doesn’t satisfy me. I want to make a difference. I want to help the team win games.”