When Chad Hetlet took over as football coach at Glenbard West High School just outside Chicago five years ago, Tommy Schutt was already well known.
And then some.
"Tommy was a legend in junior high. And I'm not talking about football,'' Hetlet said. "Everybody thought he was going to be a Major League pitcher. When he was in junior high, he was pitching in the 80s, and he was a dominant basketball player.''
Schutt, though, really found his niche on the football field, where he heads into his senior season as a two-time all-state defensive tackle selection with an invitation to play in the U.S. Army All-American Bowl and ranked in the national top 100 prospects by three of the four major scouting networks.
The larger than life - and that's saying something, because Schutt is 6-foot-3, 301 pounds - phenom essentially fell into the lap of childhood favorite Penn State when Notre Dame withdrew its scholarship offer just before he was set to commit to the Irish. Schutt took a visit to University Park with his family early last week and became the 15th member of the Nittany Lions' 2012 recruiting class on Wednesday.
"My unofficial visit on Tuesday went great, and after that trip I felt totally comfortable with the coaches and the entire deal at Penn State," Schutt told the Chicago Tribune. "I'm really happy with my decision, and so is my family."
In Schutt, Penn State appears to have gained a remarkable five-star talent. He's recorded nearly 70 tackles each of the last two years and around 30 sacks and more than 40 stops in the opposing backfield over that span playing on one of the best teams in Illinois second-largest of eight classifications - the Hilltoppers are 23-3 in his two years as a starter and so highly regarded that ESPN has picked them for a nationally televised game early this season.
His highlight tape shows a player who is both agile and strong. On some plays, he's blowing up a play in the middle of the line. On others, he's getting to the quarterback from defensive end, although he's almost certain to be a one-technique tackle in college. On still others, he's dropping into coverage and batting down a pass or making a leaping catch in the end zone as a tight end.
There's even a highlight where Glenbard West uses Schutt as part of a two-man front. He still makes the play.
"He's a unique player. His being ranked as one of the top defensive linemen in the country is for a reason,'' Hetlet said. "He's athletic. He actually has the best hands on our football team. We use him in a lot of different areas. He can move in space, so we utilize him on both sides of the ball. Defensively, we'll stand him up sometimes.
"You don't see a 300-pound kid standing up a whole lot, but he's got the athletic ability to do special things.''
Hetlet brought up Schutt as a 240-pound freshman. He played running back and receiver as a ninth grader.
"He's the best pure kid I've ever dealt with. He's really a special talent,'' said Hetlet, who has produced four Division I signees and three All-Americans - including current Notre Dame lineman Chris Watt - in his time at Glenbard West.
Fate brought Schutt to Happy Valley when Notre Dame, only seeking one defensive tackle for its 3-4 defense, received a commitment from Sheldon Day, who Penn State was also recruiting. Then Schutt planned to visit Michigan but was turned away for lack of an available scholarship there, too.
"The whole deal with Notre Dame and Michigan, I guess just wasn't meant to be for me," Schutt said to the Tribune.
So, Schutt turned his attention back to Penn State. The Nittany Lions were one of his early leaders and, in fact, were his favorite school when he was younger - he even had a Penn State reference in his email address.
"I went to some games as a kid, and I always loved the atmosphere,'' Schutt said.
Ranked the 29th-best player in the class by Rivals.com and 40th by Scout.com, Schutt reportedly had more than 20 Division I scholarship offers, including Auburn, Miami and Ohio State.
"I'm just really excited to get a chance to be a part of that tradition and history," Schutt said.