By age 10, Shawn Oakman was already heading in the wrong direction. An oversized elementary school kid in Landsdowne, Pa., Oakman was so filled with unchecked rage he often had trouble speaking. When his mother, Vernetta Oakman, told her cousin, Ken Roberts, she was struggling to discipline her son, Roberts wasted little time telling her what to do: Give Shawn to him.
"I wouldn't be where I am today without my Uncle Ken and Aunt Tracy. I was a really, really bad kid and they took me in," Oakman told the Philadelphia Daily News. "If I could go back in time and see me the way I was then, I'd beat myself to death. Yeah, I wouldn't be here, [but] maybe in Glen Mills or in prison."
Instead, Oakman is on the verge of a Penn State career because of tough love, the last remnant of a legacy of foster guardianship by Ken Roberts, who has taken in as many as 15 children from hard-luck families during the past two decades. Oakman is particularly lucky because Roberts and his wife, Tracy, were determined to leave their foster parenting behind until Oakman came along.
"We had to do something," Tracy Roberts told the Daily News. "Here's this 10-year-old kid who didn't know who I was, and we didn't know much about him. It was hard in the beginning, because Shawn was pretty much on his own when he came to us. No one ever told him when to get up and go to school, or put the trash out. He was pretty defiant early on. If they don't follow the rules, they're out. I didn't think Shawn was going to make it."
After pushing through the early rough patch, Oakman began to feel more comfortable in the Roberts home, eventually setting the stage for an impressive high school football and basketball career at Penn Wood. That's where he grew into his massive, 6-foot-9, 250-pound frame, a body which had a handful of college coaches scrambling to get his signature.
Penn State won the battle for the defensive end, stirring interest because Oakman is one of the largest Penn State commitments in recent memory. Tracy Roberts made it clear that the Nittany Lions were getting more than just an incredibly long-armed defensive end, too.
"He's a terror on the football field," Tracy Roberts told the Daily News, "and to Ken and me, we aren't his parents -- and we realize that -- but we look at him as if he's ours now, too. He's grown up to be a good kid."