- Scott Powers, ESPN Staff Writer
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Someone from Wheaton Warrenville South was going to absorb the impact of 6-foot-3, 305-pound Tommy Schutt in the season opener.
Schutt was as determined to make that happen as he was anything in his high school career.
He spent the entire offseason storing up his frustration and anger over Wheaton Warrenville South ending Glenbard West’s season in the 2009 and 2010 playoffs. Schutt wanted payback, and it so happened Glenbard West was opening its 2011 season at Wheaton Warrenville South.
“We weren’t talking about being state champions or conference champions,” Schutt said. “We wanted to beat Wheaton South on their field, and that doesn’t happen.”
On the game’s first play from scrimmage, the ball was snapped, and Wheaton Warrenville South’s left tackle attempted to slow down Schutt by chop blocking him. The agile Schutt leaped over the lineman, hit the ground running, picked up speed and threw his body at the Wheaton Warrenville South quarterback as he was releasing the ball.
The result was like witnessing a train smash into an idle object. Anyone who the saw the hit won’t ever forget it.
“That was one of the biggest hits I’ve ever seen,” Glenbard West linebacker Andrew Larkin said.
Wheaton Warrenville South coach Ron Muhitch said, “It was a phenomenal play. He ended up literally knocking the helmet off of [our quarterback.]”
Schutt said: “That’s one I’ll never forget.”
It was just the start. From that hit on, Schutt put together one dominant defensive performance after another, causing havoc on offensive linemen, running backs, quarterback sand anyone else who dared to get in his way.
For that, Schutt is the 2011 ESPNChicago.com Defensive Player of the Year.
Schutt’s path to success this season wasn’t a clear one. After making himself a household name in Illinois high school football as a sophomore and junior, opposing offenses schemed to avoid Schutt in every creative way they could this season.
The problem was Schutt spent the offseason preparing for it. Following a junior season where he believed he had a become dominant run stopper, he devoted himself in the spring and summer to becoming an equally tough pass rusher.
Putting the two skills together, Schutt turned himself into a complete player for his final high school season.
“The fact is he’s the entire package,” Hetlet said. “He’s smart. He’s strong. He’s physical, athletic, has a nose for the ball. There aren’t too many areas where you say, ‘He doesn’t have that.’ ”
Opposing coaches echoed Hetlet.
“Schutt was tough to block,” York coach Bill Lech said. “He made their entire defense better. If you doubled him, that freed up another linebacker. If you tried to solo him, you couldn’t do it. Won’t miss him a bit here at York.”
Lyons coach Kurt Weinberg said: “I believe Tommy Schutt is one of the best point-of-attack defenders I have coached against in 18 years. He is very sudden and explosive. If the ball gets near him, he will gobble it up. He explodes into blockers and sheds very well. He has a low center of gravity and uses leverage very well.”
Muhitch said: “He’s a dynamic player. He’s an athlete in a big man’s body. They’ve used him in so many ways. I think he’s just a great football player.”
Schutt’s numbers reflect that. Despite all of the attention paid to him, he still had 14 sacks, 19 tackles for loss, 19 batted balls and one interception this season. For his career, he has 33 sacks, 45 tackles for loss, 21 batted balls, 11 forced fumbles, eight fumble recoveries and one interception.
Because Schutt was producing at a high level even back to his sophomore season, colleges took notice of him at a young age. Illinois was the first to offer him, and that came just days after he played in the state championship in 2009. Schutt’s recruitment only escalated from there.
Schutt was going to commit to Notre Dame, but the Irish’s class filled up just before he had a chance to do so. Schutt’s reopened his recruitment, and his first visit was to Penn State. From the academics to the football program, Schutt felt like Penn State was the place for him and committed to the Nittany Lions in early August.
“It’s every kid’s dream to play in college,” Schutt’s father Dave Schutt said. “As a parent, it’s humbling and proud. He wanted to go a school with great academics and football tradition. It’s a school a lot like Glenbard West.”
Schutt and his parents are closely watching what unfolds at Penn State now following the child sexual abuse charges against former Penn State defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky. Schutt said he’s 100 percent committed to Penn State as of now.
“I’m not going to make any changes right now,” Schutt said. “I’m going to see how it plays out and go from there.”
The uncertainty of Penn State’s program coupled with Glenbard West’s second-round exit in the Class 7A playoffs put a damper on Schutt’s offseason. Yet, like his personality, he tends to focus on the positive.
“I couldn’t have asked for a better career,” Schutt said. “I obviously would have loved to have a ring, but it was an unbelievable career. I played with great guys, played for a great coaching staff. I couldn’t ask for anything more.”
Hetlet feels the same. He couldn’t have asked more from one player’s career.
“I’m going to miss him,” Hetlet said. “It’s hard to believe we’re not going to have a Tommy Schutt on defense.”