After getting a late start, Lincoln-Way West’s Josh Veldman commits to Northwestern. ‘It escalated into a passion.’

Lincoln-Way West’s Josh Veldman wasn’t too into sports as a young kid. After playing baseball in first and second grade, he gave that up and did not compete on any teams until seventh grade.

That’s when Veldman decided to give football a shot. It was the sport that stuck.

“Some friends got me interested in it and kind of talked me into trying football,” Veldman said. “Then it escalated into a passion.

“It’s the team, the physicality of it, the mental toughness. I can’t really explain it, but there’s just something about it.”

Veldman, a junior linebacker, will be able to continue to pursue his passion in college. He recently committed to Northwestern.

“There’s obviously a lot of things I love about it,” Veldman said. “It’s a great education. The people there — the hospitality when I got there was amazing, and just listening to all the coaches talk and seeing them practice opens up your eyes.

“Hearing coach (David) Braun speak, I just want to play for him.”

Veldman’s decision wrapped up a whirlwind few months. His recruitment had gone a bit slowly until things took off in January and February. He had offers from eight Division I schools, including Cincinnati and Iowa State, but was hearing from plenty of others before deciding on the Wildcats.

Lincoln-Way West coach Luke Lokanc told Veldman to be prepared for things to pick up in the new year, following the transfer portal window and bowl season, but nothing could quite get him ready for the onslaught of interest he suddenly received.

“I was trying to be patient and then things got hectic, but I’m not going to complain about it,” Veldman said. “I liked taking it all in. It was a fun experience, and I’m glad it happened.

“It’s been a dream of mine since I’ve been playing football to go Division I and play at the highest level. To be successful making that happen and seeing all the hard work pay off, it’s a blessing.”

Lokanc saw it coming.

“We all kind of had an idea just from being around the kid the last two years and seeing him develop day by day and seeing how his body was developing,” Lokanc said. “We were kind of like, ‘After his junior season, this kid’s recruiting is going to blow up.'”

Veldman seems to just be scratching the surface of his potential. In addition to not playing until seventh grade, he’s just 16 years old. He’s always been one of the youngest people in his class.

“When I was a sophomore and got called up to varsity, I was 14 years old playing in varsity games,” he said. “That really opened up my eyes that I could go somewhere with this, and it made me work harder.”

From a coach’s perspective, Lokanc believes Veldman is just getting started.

“His best days are still ahead of him, that’s for sure,” Lokanc said. “I think that’s something everyone at Northwestern sees in him. This kid’s potential is through the room.

“Even for next year with us, it’s going to be awesome to see how he changes from his junior year to his senior year. He’s going to be a totally different guy out there and it’s exciting.”

Northwestern was surrounded by controversy last year as a hazing scandal resulted in the firing of longtime coach Pat Fitzgerald, a Sandburg graduate.

Braun took over and led the Wildcats to an 8-5 season, capped by a win over Utah in the Las Vegas Bowl.

Veldman was impressed by the turnaround.

“We got invited to a game and I was telling my mom about the adversity they went through and how they’re getting through that and coming out on top,” Veldman said. “I thought it was really cool.

“They have things going in the right direction. I’m excited to go in and contribute to that.”