by Erin Smith
Scott Shanle is living a dream where reality is better than he could have ever imagined it.
Shanle grew up in St. Edward, Neb., and like most natives of the Cornhusker state, he would often dream about and envision what it would be like to play football at Nebraska.
National signing day came his senior year of high school and several Big 12 schools were calling, but the call he waited a lifetime for didn?t come. Nebraska never made an offer. But Shanle didn?t let that get in his way.
"I knew I wanted to play Division I football, but after I visited Kansas, I knew there was nowhere else I wanted to go," Shanle said of coming to Lincoln. "I knew this was the place that I wanted to be, even if that meant doing it as a walk-on, because I knew if I could play somewhere else, I could earn a place here."
The 6-foot-2 Sam linebacker never doubted his ability to make it at Nebraska.
"I had enough confidence in my ability to make it here," Shanle said. "I knew if it meant paying my way for one year and earning a scholarship, it would be worth it rather than getting a scholarship to start off at another school that doesn?t have nearly the tradition that Nebraska does."
Shanle did more than earn a scholarship, he earned a starting position in his second season, and has steadily improved to the point that he has been named to the 2002 Butkus Award Watch List. The Butkus Award is regarded as one of the most elite individual honors in college football and is presented to the nation?s best collegiate linebacker.
Defensive coordinator Craig Bohl recognized Shanle?s progression from a walk-on to one of the nation?s best linebackers.
"I think he has certainly gotten stronger and faster," Bohl said. "He has become much more of a complete player. He?s got great man-coverage skills and he has turned into an excellent tackler. He?s got a good understanding of the game. Making the transition from eight-man football to 11-man football, nonetheless college football, is a real difficult chore, but he has done a great job of that."
Shanle didn?t make the transition alone. He had two seniors in Tony Ortiz and Brian Shaw to look up to when he arrived in Lincoln.
"I had the most contact with them," Shanle said. "They helped me out so much. That was their last year, so they knew that someone was going to have to step in. The time they gave me when I had questions meant a lot."
Shanle has made his mark in the Nebraska record books in his first three seasons as a Husker, and doesn?t look to let up in 2002.
Last season, Shanle set the Nebraska linebacker single-game record with four pass breakups at Missouri. He is currently three pass breakups short of tying the Nebraska career record set by Mike Knox from 1981 to 1985 with 13.
Shanle said he felt good about the effort at Missouri, but he isn?t focused on the record.
"Going into the (Missouri) game, they kind of picked on me a little bit throwing to their tight end, but I feel like I responded to the challenge," Shanle said. "Every other Saturday it might be someone else?s turn to step up and take over a game. I don?t think I took over the game, but I think I made enough plays to keep Missouri from scoring, and to keep them from getting good field position. I was really happy with the way I played that game. I used that game to build on at the end of last season and going into this season."
While Shanle used that game as a cornerstone for his career, he refuses to make the record a personal goal. He says that the team goal is bigger than any of his individual goals.
"If it comes, it comes," Shanle said of the record. "I really haven?t set my goals toward that. It would be a great honor if I achieved that goal, but I haven?t thought about it a whole lot.
"I really didn?t set any individual goals because the team goals far outweigh any personal goals I could set. It wouldn?t matter to me if I reached any of my goals if we didn?t reach our team goals, like winning the Big 12 Championship or going to the Fiesta Bowl."
Setting and achieving goals is something Shanle has always taken pride in. It?s taken him this far, and there is no reason to think he will stop anytime soon.
"I?m very goal-oriented," he said. "I don?t stray away from the goals I set. Everything that I have accomplished, I?ve set as a goal before that. I would say that is one of my best qualities, that I focus on those goals and strive to achieve them."
Since Shanle refuses to put his own goals ahead of team goals, the coaches can rest assured he will put everything on the line each week for the sake of the team. There are very few goals Shanle has not accomplished, and if it is up to him, the team will not come up short in 2002.
"My whole life, whenever I have decided I wanted something, that is what I have set my mind to no matter how much time it involved or how much work it involved," Shanle said.
There was a great amount of work required for Shanle to make the transition from walk-on to impact player. He gave everything the coaches asked of him to earn his Blackshirt.
"This was something I really put my heart into, and I knew when I came here that this was going to be the place I would end up (starting). My main thing was I knew that I had to work hard enough to be successful."
Shanle has been extremely successful at the linebacker position, posting 116 career tackles, including 13 tackles for loss, 10 pass breakups and one interception so far. Shanle also scored his first career touchdown in the opening game of the 2002 season against Arizona State, picking up a blocked punt and running it in from six yards out for the score.
Bohl attributes Shanle?s success to a great work ethic and athletic ability.
"He?s been a three-year starter, which is not easy to do," Bohl said. "Number one, he has great athletic ability. He?s very fluid. He has excellent balance, and he?s got good instincts. Couple that with good work habits and you have a pretty good player."
Shanle learned many of those skills and work habits from Ortiz and Shaw when he entered the Nebraska system as a freshman, and now he takes great pride in passing on the knowledge he has acquired throughout his collegiate career.
"At Sam (linebacker), I am a senior and Gabe Fries is a senior, but Ira Cooper is only a sophomore," Shanle said. "Ira backs me up, and I try to help him as much as I can because Tony and Brian helped me out when I had questions. Now I try to help Ira out when he has questions. I just try to make sure he understands what is going on."
Cooper will learn some valuable lessons in leadership and how to work hard to accomplish goals if he takes Shanle?s example to heart.
"When you get to be a senior, all those guys you came in with in your class just band together," Shanle said. "You know that this is your last year, and you have to set a good example for all the younger guys on the team. A lot of those younger guys are looking up to you to see how you respond in different situations."
Shanle has made the most out of his situation, and in the process he has become a valuable team leader.
"I think he has really established himself as one of our leaders on defense," Bohl said. "He?s got a great deal of experience and knowledge. Our players understand that and respect that. When he says something they certainly listen."
Shanle has had to work hard to get to where he his today, but he has had incredible support along the way from his family and his new bride, Erin.
"My mom, dad and brothers have always accepted the time I put into football," he said. "They never told me, ?This is what you need to do? or ?You have to play football.? They always let the choice be up to me. I think my family really helped me get where I am."
Shanle married his high school sweetheart on June 8 this year and she has been a source of strength for him throughout his career.
"I have been with my wife now since we were in high school," Shanle said. "She always pushed me and told me that if that is what I wanted to do, then that is what I was going to do. She always encouraged me and supported me."
The newlywed believes that life is no different after marriage, but he does recognize that she is a big reason he has made it this far.
"Everyone asks me how married life is or if it is any different, but it really isn?t," he said. "She makes it really easy. It would be easy for her to get discouraged with the amount of time I put into football, but she understands and she supports me. I am very fortunate."
The support from his family and his own determination has helped Shanle garner a long list of accolades, including honorable-mention All-Big 12 honors, being named a 2000 Successful Farming All-American, and Big 12 Defensive Player-of-the-Week after his stellar game at Missouri last season.
Now he stands on the brink of adding his name to the Nebraska record books as a senior while being recognized among the best linebackers in the nation with his inclusion to the Butkus Watch List. The prestigious award has only been won by one Husker?Trev Alberts in 1993?while only two other Huskers have been finalists.
But if Shanle goes on to set the school record or receive national recognition for his outstanding play, it won?t be enough for him. It will never be enough unless the team accomplishes its goals.
Still humble about his accomplishments on the field, Shanle realizes his dreams have all come true.
"I think if I could have set it up, I couldn?t have set it up better than it turned out."