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Schlagle linebacker travels long road to success

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Ngenzirabona and Richardson return to lead Schlagle football

  • Manowa Ngenzirabona (#21, left) and Jaylin Richardson will start their quest to lead Schalgle to a KC-AL championship tonight against Atchison. (Photos by Brian Turrel, Wyandotte Daily News)
    Manowa Ngenzirabona (#21, left) and Jaylin Richardson will start their quest to lead Schalgle to a KC-AL championship tonight against Atchison. (Photos by Brian Turrel, Wyandotte Daily News)

Kansas City Schlagle’s Manowa Ngenzirabona is the reigning Kansas City-Atchison League defensive MVP and has received interest from multiple NCAA Division II schools.

Ngenzirabona’s journey includes stops in Congo, Tanzania, Wisconsin, Iowa and Kansas. It also features a drunk driver, six siblings, Great Wolf Lodge at Legends Mall in Kansas City – and lots and lots of walking.

Ngenzirabona’s parents, Fudjo and Grace, are Congo natives and work night shifts. Fudjo tracks sleep patterns for disabled people, and Grace is employed at Amazon. The 6-foot, 225-pound Ngenzirabona is the second-oldest child. His parents have never seen him play.

His mom cooks food for the children, packs in different bowls and leaves them in the refrigerator before work. Ngenzirabona eats plenty of rice and a dish called fufu, an essential Western African meal that involved hot water and corn powder. When the powder is stirred, it becomes a ball. Ngenzirabona dips it in sauce.

“They’ve got a lot of stuff to do,” he said. “I respect that. They are busy, busy taking care of the six of us.”

He often gets up at 5 a.m., takes a quick shower, and wakes up his brothers and sisters. If his older sister, who is in college, can’t drive, Ngenzirabona and his brother, Gideon, and sister Dory, walk to school, a trek that normally takes an hour. Their parents are normally still working. 

“Got to go make it to school,” Ngenzirabona said.

Sometimes after basketball games, Ngenzirabona, ensconced in a big coat, gloves and hooded sweatshirts, has walked home in cold conditions.

“Rain, sleet or shine,” Schlagle head football coach Taylor Wallace said.

Ngenzirabona, a middle linebacker and running back, recorded 154 tackles last season. On Friday, the Stallions play their season opener against Atchison. On Saturday, Ngenzirabona is scheduled to take the ACT test. 

He has studied for the exam, plans to earn a qualifying score, and then send it to NCAA Division I colleges in hopes of earning a scholarship. Wallace said Ngenzirabona is always upbeat. 

“I love being around my teammates,” Ngenzirabona said. “It gets me excited, and you can’t have a negative energy around the guys, because that will bring everybody down. Somebody has to be positive, and I just try to be the guy that’s always positive.”

This week, Ngenzirabona brought up the ACT several times. He showed more enthusiasm for the ACT than the typical high school student. Ngenzirabona knew the potential impact a good score could have on himself and his family. He carries a 3.5 GPA, enjoys his classes and has a goal to get college paid for, so he can earn a degree and get into coaching.

Additionally, Ngenzirabona works around 20 hours a week as a busser at Great Wolf Lodge. He normally packs his work clothes in his school bag, changes after practice and takes an Uber to work. This week, Ngenzirabona asked off of work because of Saturday’s test.

“That’s really important for me right now, my ACT,” he said.

Ngenzirabona was born in Congo and moved to Tanzania. From Africa, he still recalls his friends, the food and frequently playing soccer. He had never heard of football. On Jan. 27, 2010 – Ngenzirabona instantly recalled the date – his family came to the United States when the Tanzanian government allowed certain families to move to America. 

They lived in Wisconsin for six months in a dwelling with a house upstairs and downstairs. In the middle of the night, a drunk driver ran into the Ngenzirabona house and left the scene. Ngenzirabona slept through the accident, and eventually woke up and wondered why cops were all over the premises. The house was still standing, though everything was damaged.

Then, the family moved to Cedar Rapids, Iowa. Ngenzirabona first learned football and started playing in eighth grade, and began to love the sport as a freshman. He started watching Khalil Mack, then at University of Buffalo. Ngenzirabona liked Mack’s versatility and became a big Raiders fan, Mack’s first team. For the 2015 season, Mack, now in his second season with the Bears, became the first player named first team All-Pro at two positions, outside linebacker and defensive end.

His dad found a good job in the Kansas City area, and the family moved south. Ngenzirabona had the option to either attend K.C. Schlagle or K.C. Washington. He went onto Hudl and MaxPreps and saw the dominance of Schlagle in their league. The Stallions are 28-11 in the last four years. Wallace, who has spent more than 15 years on Schlagle’s staff, said Ngenzirabona “popped out of nowhere” in the summer with a strong motor and work ethic.

“He just had to learn the schemes, the process of football and everything,” Wallace said. “And it was funny, because he kept coming in wanting to go to basketball. … I am glad he stuck to football.” 

Wallace, then the defensive coordinator, purposefully put Ngenzirabona at middle linebacker and told him, “just go get the quarterback.” Ngenzirabona started by the end of his sophomore year.

Ngenzirabona has relished playing middle linebacker, generally the quarterback of the defense. He likes making big plays and getting his players into the right coverages.

“I spent a lot of time in film, just pay close attention,” Ngenzirabona said. “You have got to read the guards and the tackles. They really give away the plays if it’s a pass or run. If I see a formation, I can remember what plays they run.”

Ngenzirabona’s football IQ has significantly advanced since, and Wallace said he “really clicked” last year. Wallace labeled Ngenzirabona a “true ballhawk” and another coach on the field.

“A real pleasure having him,” Wallace said. “He is a real leader.”

Additionally, Schlagle returns senior running back Jaylin Richardson, a KU commit and the league’s offensive MVP. Richardson, who rushed for almost 1,700 yards and 17 touchdowns last season, is the next in a line of great Schlagle backs that includes J’Veyon Browning, Cornelius Ruff and Ivan Webb, all who earned scholarship offers from Division I schools.

Webb and Browning were shiftier backs, while the 6-foot, 220-pound Richardson and Ruff are more powerful.

“He runs a lot like Cornelius Ruff does,” Wallace said. “He has that power, he has that good little vision. He has that burst of speed, turn the jets on when you need to turn it on.”

Additionally, senior wide receivers Josh Becton and Kendall Brewer are quality players, and Brewer has earned Division II attention. The Stallions return 12 total starters from a year ago and hope to continue their success in the KC-AL.