Under Armour All-American Ernest Willor Jr., the 6-foot-4, 265-pound defensive end for Concordia Prep in Towson, plans to play football at Wisconsin next year, he announced Wednesday.

The soft-spoken young man, whose tight-knit family hails from Liberia, had been the highest-ranked defensive lineman in the class of 2024 who had yet to make a college commitment.

He chose the Badgers over powerhouse programs such as Ohio State and Miami.

“His size and explosiveness is elite,” Concordia Prep head coach Joseph Battaglia told The Baltimore Banner this fall. “And, in addition to his raw ability, he’s a really hard worker that’s always training and looking to improve despite the fact that he’s such a talent already. That speaks well for what the future holds for him.”

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Speculation had been running rampant over the last few days, with Maryland, Penn State, Ohio State and Wisconsin seen as favorites to get Willor’s signature on a letter of intent.

Ernest Willor looks away from the camera for a portrait in front of a red blocking sled while holding a football.
Ernest Willor Jr. had been the highest-ranked defensive lineman in the class of 2024 who had yet to make a college commitment. (Kylie Cooper/The Baltimore Banner)

Willor took unofficial visits to Maryland and Penn State during the season, and his official visit to Wisconsin came after his senior season ended. He recorded 47 tackles, seven sacks, two interceptions, a forced fumble and a fumble recovery in 11 games.

The conjecture over where he’d wind up changed Wednesday afternoon, when at a press conference aired nationally by ESPN on the Concordia campus in Towson, Willor picked the Badgers.

Wisconsin head coach Luke Fickell, a former nose guard at Ohio State who had previously been the head coach at Cincinnati from 2017 to 2022, has made recruiting along the defensive line a top priority for the Badgers.

“Wisconsin came along a little late in the recruiting game and wasn’t originally one of Ernest’s top options, but their coaching staff did a great job of being persistent with cultivating a relationship and getting him excited about their shared vision for the future,” Battaglia said after the press conference. “He had some great options from some amazing schools all over the country. I know that the academic piece was a factor because Wisconsin is one of the best schools in the country. A lot more factors go into these decisions now with the name, image and likeness opportunities. But it’s nice to see a kid like Ernest, who is equally committed to both football and his studies, giving serious consideration to their kinesiology program, which is one of his interests.”

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“Going to Wisconsin is the best of both worlds for me,” Willor told The Banner. “I get to play in one of the best conferences in the country, the Big Ten, with and against some of the best players in college football. In addition to the program being on the rise, the opportunity to study at such an esteemed institution is pretty cool.”

As of a few days ago, Willor, who has graduated early and will enroll in Madison in January, was torn. But, over the last 48 hours or so, there was something about Wisconsin that stood out.

“I’ve been debating my options, thinking about what I wanted to accomplish as an athlete and a student and where I wanted to spend the next four years,” Willor said. “Even though they threw their name in the hat late and [Wisconsin] wasn’t on my original list, Coach Fickell and his staff did a great job of establishing and building a rapport with me and my family. Their focus on building a powerhouse defensive line, in addition to having a chance to see the field as a true freshman in the fall, was enticing. I’m looking forward to these next experiences and opportunities at the next level.”

Alejandro Danois was a sports writer for The Banner. He specializes in long-form storytelling, looking at society through the prism of sports and its larger connections with the greater cultural milieu. The author of The Boys of Dunbar, A Story of Love, Hope and Basketball, he is also a film producer and cultural critic.

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