Evan Schwan's first brush with fame came nine years ago at a Purdue football game when he and his family met Drew Brees' mom.
Unlike his older brother, Schwan never got to actually meet the man who would go on to one day quarterback the New Orleans Saints to a Super Bowl victory, but, if things go well, he might get to make his acquaintance in an NFL backfield someday.
Schwan, a 6-foot-6, 230-pound all-state defensive end for PIAA Class AAAA champion Central Dauphin, was one of 18 recruits that signed letters-of-intent on Wednesday to play football at Penn State. That wrapped up a wild month of recruiting in which Schwan found himself drawing attention and scholarship offers from a number of Big East and Big Ten programs.
No one could have anticipated things would work out this way for Schwan six months ago, though, when he was on the comeback trail from not one but two major injuries that wrecked his junior season.
"It's really surreal. At the beginning of my junior year, I never thought I'd be in this position. A lot of the parents would say, 'Evan's going to be really great,' but, when I got injured, I was like, 'What's going to happen?'' Schwan said. "The thing I take the most pride in is going from having nothing to having everything. A lot of people, even on the football team, they doubted me.''
Schwan left little doubt. The son of former all-Big Ten Purdue guard Dale Schwan rebounded from fracturing a vertebrae early in the preseason and a separated shoulder and partially torn labrum in his return game midway through the 2010 campaign to record 72 tackles and 16 1/2 sacks his senior year. He was named first-team all-state and picked to represent Pennsylvania in the Big 33 Game.
Iowa, Rutgers, Kent State, UConn and Temple offered Schwan before he arrived at Penn State for an unofficial visit last weekend, but he left University Park a Nittany Lion.
"The main reason is academics,'' said Schwan, who plans to major in business. "I aspire to play in the NFL, but, if that doesn't work out, I have a fallback.''
Larry Johnson, who has put his share of defensive linemen into the pros, handled Schwan's recruitment.
"He had a great year. We knew about him, because he'd been at our camp two years in a row. We just didn't know if we were going to take another defensive end. Then we saw he was the best guy available, so we made the phone call,'' Johnson said. "I think we're getting a great football player who can do a lot of things for us.''
Central Dauphin coach Glen McNamee had Schwan starting both ways as a senior and playing special teams.
"With 17 sacks, most people probably think of him for the way he comes off the ball and gets around the edge rushing the passer, but he never became all about the sack like some players would,'' McNamee said. "He always did his job.''
McNamee and his staff always knew Schwan's potential was there. The way he responded to his injuries just confirmed he had the resolve needed to realize it.
"In January, he came back, ready to go, with reckless abandon. He didn't approach it cautiously. He went full bore. When we hit the field in August, he approached it the same way,'' McNamee said. "He could not have dealt with it any better.''
Schwan said, though, that he did have his own doubts, and giving up football was at least a thought if not a consideration.
"It was in the back of my mind, especially with my back injury, because, if I would have gotten hurt any worse, there was a threat of me getting paralyzed,'' Schwan said.
According to Schwan, that is all behind him. He's been told that a less than ideal weight lifting regimen for someone his size and build probably contributed to the back injury, and a new program from incoming Lion strength and conditioning coach Craig Fitzgerald will help in that area as well as improving a 305-pound bench press and putting more weight on his frame.
Schwan will need that. Although he comes off as very calculated and says he watches hours of tape in preparation for games, his favorite NFL lineman is Ndamukong Suh, and he can switch a mean streak on during games.
"I just love hitting people,'' Schwan said. "Football is the only real collision sport where you can hit anyone almost any kind of way and it's not illegal.''
Schwan's journey from his family's 20-acre farm outside Harrisburg to big-time college football certainly has had its share of bumps and twists.
"When I got the offer on my visit, I was just speechless,'' Schwan said. "To go from being injured to not having anyone know who you are to being committed to such a good school is great.''