PSU football: In this category, the line forms behind Conlan

You can make a case for any number of unheralded recruits, even walk-ons, for today’s topic.

But none would exceed the recruiting story, development and ascension to football stardom achieved by Shane Conlan.

First, the background.

Conlan was a lanky 190-pound linebacker who played at tiny Frewsburg High School, one of the smallest schools in New York state. (To localize, think Williamsburg).

As with many small-school athletes, there are questions about competition and projection to the next level.

Conlan had no offers. Edinboro turned him down.

His high school coach, Tom Sharp, had reached out to Penn State assistant coach Tom Bradley. This was February of 1982, and the Lions were in the midst of building their first of two national-championship teams — back in the day when players, even the greatest ones, were redshirted and stayed five years.

Penn State had one scholarship left, and Sharp sent Bradley some video.

The current Pittsburgh Steelers assistant coach remembers it well.

“It was in a Kodak box — like a family video,” Bradley said Wednesday. “It was shot from a school bus.”

Conlan had one basketball game left, on a Tuesday night, and Bradley braced a winter storm on Route 219. Frewsburg is between Salamanca and Olean, so you get the, well, drift.

What Bradley couldn’t quite tell on the football footage was immediately apparent in person.

“I’m like, ‘Oh, my goodness,” Bradley said.

After the game, Bradley introduced himself to Conlan, arranged for a Saturday visit and sold the Lions’ final available scholarship offer to the staff Sunday.

Joe Paterno’s reaction, per Bradley: “He told me, ‘If you want him, you better be right.”’

He was.

Conlan became the centerpiece of the 1985-86 teams, defensive-oriented squads that played for two national championships and delivered one – the 14-10 win over Miami in what still stands as the No. 1 win in school history.

Conlan’s two-interception, eight-tackle, all-over-the-field performance will go down as one of the Lions’ best single-game efforts ever.

Conlan was a two-time All-American, went on to a terrific NFL career with the Buffalo Bills and Los Angeles Rams and was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 2014.

Despite being in a recruiting class with the likes of Tim Manoa, Steve Smith, Tim Johnson, Bob White, John Shaffer, Ray Isom, Chris Conlin and Don Graham, the kid nobody else wanted from Frewsburg, N.Y. emerged.

“So much for four- and five-stars,” Bradley said. “Shane wasn’t even a (one) star.”

Rudel can be reached at 946-7527 or nrudel@altoonamirror.com.


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