Nestled only two hours from Happy Valley in the state of Pennsylvania , as young persons dream of being a Husker in Nebraska , those youngsters dreaming of one day being a Nittany Lion.
It's natural. It's to be expected. After all, Penn State is one of the grand traditions of college football, and still at the post as head coach is one of its stellar representatives in Joe Paterno.
For West Scranton linebacker Shawn Bodtmann, he like most, could have been dreaming of one day wearing blue and white and playing in front of over 100,000 fans. Well, he'll be playing in front of just over 80,000, and his future colors will be scarlet and cream.
Mike DeAntona, the head coach of "The Invaders", and the heir apparent to his father who coached at that same school for over 30 years, said that Penn State is indeed a wonderful tradition, but Nebraska's isn't that bad either. "You don't have to be a Nebraskan to appreciate the tradition they have there. It's one of the best in the country," he said. "From back in the day with Bob Devaney and Tom Osborne, their tradition ranks up there with everyone else."
From the days when he was young watching and learning from his father, Joe, Mike has seen his share of superstar talent go from West Scranton to all parts of the United States . Mike said that during Joe's tenure that school put out 35 Division 1-A kids. As for Mike, he hasn't done real bad himself, just this last year sending one (TE, Hubie Graham) to Illinois . And this year, in addition to Bodtmann, DeAntona boasts one of the best offensive linemen in the country in 6-7, 300 lbs. Eric Shrive, who has approximately 30 written offers already.
He knows success, but he also knows what goes into that success and looks at Bodtmann as the model which others should follow. "He's a coaches dream. You ask him to do it, he'll do it and won't ask why. And the effort this kid puts out, you can't ask for anything more," he said of Shawn who finished his junior campaign with 1500 yards and 25 touchdowns rushing, and he also had 18 catches and four receiving touchdowns.
While most of his production is on the offensive side, the 6-0, 205 lbs. standout will be playing his days at Nebraska on defense, more than likely at the WILL linebacker position. Some would look at his size and ponder how realistic that is, but not DeAntona, because he sees knows what this kid can do.
"A lot of people get caught up in size, but Zach Thomas turned out to be pretty good and he's 5-10, and Mike Singletary and Sam Mills turned out OK, too." He said. "I don't measure what a young person can do on the size of their body, but the size of their heart and what they are willing to do to get better.
"That's Shawn, because there is nothing he won't do to make himself better. Whether it's the weight room, the classroom, this kid will give you everything he's got."
Part of that everything obviously includes a certain disposition once he steps onto the field. It's certainly not the same one which has him excelling in the classroom and sees him today in Maryland performing with his school choir.
It's that switch you hear a lot about, but maybe can't quite grasp, and Bodtmann clicks it firmly into the "on-position" the second he crosses the white line. "He's nasty. He hits that switch and you are getting yourself someone who plays the game with a real intensity," DeAntona said. "You love kids who can turn that switch on and off, but when that switch is on, Shawn becomes a totally different person."
There's also something else a little unique about Bodtmann, and it speaks to the day and age we live in. Young players grow up wanting to be the next great quarterback, running back or whatever. Not Shawn, though, according to his head coach. He's never thought about himself that way.
"He's a football player, and that's what he thinks of himself. He's a kid who just wants to play the game," he said. "Whatever position you want him to play, he'll play it and give you everything he's got. He's a throwback of sorts when it comes to that, because players want to do this, that or whatever. Not Shawn. He'll strap it on, go wherever you want him to go and he'll succeed."
Of the recent commitment of one of his all-stars DeAntona said that he was gratified not just with the fact that another one of his kids is going to a major program on scholarship, but that Bodtmann is going to the University of Nebraska . It's the appreciation of tradition, of course, but from what Bodtmann himself told him, it goes a lot deeper than that. "One thing that stood out to Shawn on his visit down there was what the current players were saying about this staff," he said. "Shawn said that the players were very enthusiastic about this group of coaches and that everyone was really positive about what was happening there, now.
"That's a big one, because you take all that other stuff away, those coaches are the people Shawn will be around for a long time to come and when players are as positive about the coaches as Shawn said these players were, you have to feel good about the decision."
The decision obviously comes early, too early for many Husker fans when they see a pledge from an out-of-state kid this time of the year. It's a long time before signing day in February of next year and this young man is bound to get more popular as time goes on.
However, as DeAntona said, one of the things that Bodtmann liked so much about the coaches at Nebraska , is something that the prepster is like himself, and it's a quality which doesn't lend itself to changing one's mind on a whim. "He's a blue collar kid who says what he means and didn't come to this decision based on just that visit," he said. "That was part of it, but Shawn got along very well with the coaches, the players and when it came to what was important to him, he saw everything he needed to see.
"He's just not the kind of kid who is going to say one thing and then do something else. He's just a high-character kid who says it, does it and sticks to it."
There's another quality Bodtmann has, according to the head coach, and it thrives in the face of stereotypes which seem to demand freakish size, freakish speed and freakish strength. Bodtmann has the strength, the Scranton all-star pushing up the NFL Combine required 225 pounds on the bench, well into the double-digits. But don't talk to him about speed. Speed is subjective, especially for a coach, and if you ask DeAntona how fast Bodtmann is, he'll tell you that he's more than fast enough when it counts.
"Coaches get caught up in that, asking about forty-times and I just ask them, ‘what quarter?'," he said. "That's because Shawn is at least as fast in the fourth quarter as he is in the first quarter, and if you ask me what I want, that's it right there.
"Don't give me a kid who can run like crazy for 15 minutes and not give you much at the end of the game when it counts. Give me someone who can move like that for the entire game. Shawn does that. When it's crunch time, he's got everything then that he had when the game began."
Bodtmann joins in-state star Cole Pensick as members of the 2009 class, where you can pick a number of positions which the Huskers really needed to address. Linebacker is still up in the air as to how many Nebraska really needs, most of that probably being determined throughout the 2008 season.
But for a coach who has seen his share of talent, size, athleticism and pure heart, DeAntona wants Husker fans to know that they are getting a gem, who may be not getting his due quite yet. He figures everyone will catch on at some point, but he knows that Husker fans will see what he means someday soon. "People there in Nebraska are going to get a kid who will give everything he's got and someone who always puts the team before himself," he said. "He's just one of those kinds of people you wished you could keep around forever. He is always trying to make himself better, help the team get better and that's both on and off the field.
"It's going to be fun to watch him at Nebraska ."