Editor's Note: This is the fourth in a series of stories that will profile each of the players in Penn State's Class of 2012. You can read the previous stories below.
Evan Schwan had family ties to Purdue but wound up as a Nittany Lion.
Evan Schwan's first Blue-White Game experience was not a fun one. But he got a good story out of it.
The soon-to-be Penn State defensive end was spending the April afternoon taking in the Nittany Lions' spring scrimmage and getting to know some of his future teammates, but a stomach virus hit him hard that day. At one point, the 6-foot-6 Schwan was bent over a trash can, coughing up his breakfast, when someone came up behind him and asked Schwan what was wrong with him.
Schwan didn't find out until later in the day that the stranger had been Chicago Bears linebacker Brian Urlacher.
"I got a picture with him," Schwan said.
Schwan helped lead his Central Dauphin High School team to a Pennsylvania Class AAAA state championship last fall. Less than two months later, he accepted a scholarship offer from Penn State. Before all of that, however, he had to go through a lot more than a stomach virus.
During the second week of two-a-day workouts the summer before his junior year, Schwan suffered a fracture of his L5 vertebrae, which sidelined him for half the season. When he returned, he wasn't able to play a full game before he suffered a partially torn labrum. His junior season -- arguably the most important for a high school player hoping to get looks from major colleges -- essentially never happened.
"He knew and I think a lot of people knew that he was poised and ready to do some nice things that year," Central Dauphin head coach Glen McNamee said. "It could have been very discouraging and defeating for a lot of kids. But he handled it as well as you could want."
It wasn't easy. Schwan said he heard mumblings -- some even coming from his upperclassman teammates -- that he could have played more that season, that he was faking his injuries.
"I'm like, 'How can you fake a broken back or dislocated shoulder?'" he said.
In the offseason, Schwan put in the work in the weight room. And when his senior year rolled around, he was ready to have the type of season McNamee and others thought he could have had as a junior had he stayed healthy. He had 72 tackles and 16.5 sacks as the Rams, picked to go 5-6 during the preseason, shook off an early-season loss to Bishop McDevitt to reel off 14 straight victories, including a 14-7 defeat of North Penn in the title game.
Schwan and his teammates, including current Penn State recruit Zayd Issah, enjoyed proving their doubters wrong.
"The talent was there but people didn't see it," he said. "What helped us win was the togetherness of the entire team. After every game the team would be at someone's house watching game footage on the news. … It was a family. On our rings, it actually said '2011 State Champs,' and 'Family' at the bottom."
The Rams played together, but they also had to make the plays. Schwan led the way up front on a line that relied on quickness more than size and strength.
He had no choice; the 6-foot-6 end played a relatively gangly 218 pounds his senior year. He also was pressed into duty at offensive tackle, a position he had not previously played, due to depth troubles on the offensive line. After Schwan got off to a torrid start, opponents soon began double- or triple-teaming him, and his thin frame took a lot of pounding. McNamee said his player was never cautious or hesitant coming off his injuries, though.
"The thing that led to my success was the motor that I have," Schwan said. "I can get knocked down three times in a play and still get to the ball."
That motor caught Bill O'Brien's eye as Penn State's new coach, still helping the New England Patriots prepare for the Super Bowl at the time, watched Schwan's highlight film this January. At the time, Schwan held offers from Connecticut, Rutgers, Temple, Iowa and Kent State but not from Penn State nor from Purdue, where his father, Dale, had been an offensive lineman in the 1970s.
"I had wanted to go to Purdue so bad," he said. "I knew the campus, knew the coaches … but they kind of almost forgot about me. I fell off the radar for them."
Penn State defensive line coach Larry Johnson called Schwan two weeks before signing day and said he wanted him to come to campus for a visit as soon as possible. Johnson also made an in-home visit to Schwan on Jan. 22 -- the same day Joe Paterno died of lung cancer.
"I'm surprised that he even came. He'd been working with that man for years," Schwan said. "For him to do that, it really spoke volumes."
Schwan went to State College the following Friday and had an offer by the end of the weekend. He accepted.
At the time, he was already in the process of adding weight, pounding down 6,000 calories a day. He checked in at about 240 pounds during a Big 33 practice a few weeks ago and said he didn't feel like he had lost any speed after adding the extra weight (he would like to add another 20 or 30 pounds this season).
Schwan, who blocked a couple of punts and a field goal during his high school career, would love to make an impact on Penn State's special teams this fall, though he also sees the benefits of taking a redshirt. He is considering a major in business or finance (his older brother Brandon just landed a job at Alcyon Wealth Partners, a financial planning firm whose clients include Philadelphia Eagles running back LeSean McCoy) and doesn't seem too bothered by the fact that his dad's alma mater couldn't find a scholarship for him.
"I wouldn't rather be anywhere else," he said.