Kaden Johnson knew more than a week ago where he intended to play college football. After months of speculation and conjecture, constant queries and strong opinions, the hardest thing for him was not telling anyone outside of his family.
The 6-2, 235-pound linebacker from Minnehaha Academy, considered by national recruiting services to be the top senior football prospect in Minnesota, announced Wednesday morning his commitment to Wisconsin.
Badgers coaches, including head coach Paul Chryst, visited Johnson's home Dec. 10. It was then that Johnson, who had also been linked to Nebraska, Oregon State, LSU and Minnesota, settled on Wisconsin. He waited until Minnehaha Academy's signing day ceremony to announce his decision, however.
"It was hard to keep it a secret," Johnson said. "My family was the only people I let know about this, but I knew I could trust them. I'm just happy to get this done."
Johnson said Minnesota was in the mix until the end, but academic preferences and Wisconsin's defensive scheme tilted the scale in the Badgers' favor.
"Going to Minnehaha, where academics are a very big part of the school, that's ultimately what made me pick Wisconsin. Also, the scheme, the stand-up linebacker position, is really big there," Johnson said. "Minnesota was always in my top three. There are no negatives towards Minnesota. Wisconsin was just a better overall fit for me."
Joining Johnson at the signing table were teammates and lifelong friends, Terry Lockett Jr. and Craig McDonald. Minnehaha Academy is a part of the co-op SMB football program, along with St. Paul Academy and Blake.
Lockett signed his national letter of intent to play wide receiver at Michigan State, three days after announcing his commitment.
The three of them, along with 2019 Minnesota Mr. Football winner Jalen Suggs, had grown up playing sports together. Lockett, who left for his junior year to play basketball at Spire Academy in Ohio before returning this season, acknowledged how special is was to share the moment they'd talked of so often in the past.
"Being back with my brothers for my senior year, it was kind of like I never left," Lockett said. "I got to sign with them, in front of all our childhood friend and our families, it was nothing short of a blessing."
When they were growing up, Lockett remembered the times they would talk about playing football beyond high school. Suggs, who has been nationally recruited to play football and basketball, has said he will announce his plans Jan. 4 when Minnehaha Academy plays national power Sierra Canyon of Chatsworth, Calif., at Target Center.
"We're going our separate ways now,'' Lockett said, "but it was our dream of going to the next level and playing with or against each other. It's here now. Reality. It seems unreal."
McDonald, who had a frustrating senior year after the Minnesota State High School League declared him ineligible because he used up his 12 semesters of eligibility, was all smiles Wednesday after signing with Iowa State.
Less than two weeks ago, McDonald, a safety, was invited to play in the Minnesota Football Showcase All-Star Game, where he was named defensive player of the game.
He said that experience soothed some of the hard feelings he felt during the season.
"It was just a super good feeling to get back out there and know I still got it a little bit," he said.
Wednesday was one of McDonald's final days at Minnehaha Academy. He's graduating early and will be enrolled at Iowa State campus within weeks. So his eligibility battle is history.
"I'm definitely feeling better," he said. "The season went by faster than I thought it would go. Everything feels better now."