"When you went anywhere on the island, people knew him," says his sister Colleen, 15. "I was always amazed at how popular he was. If he drove by a store or a restaurant, people would come running out to say hi to him."
At home, though, Shannon could be wildly temperamental. He was famous for holding his breath until he passed out on the kitchen floor. When he was 15, he dyed his hair pink, then shaved it when the color started to fade. "He was trouble," says Norbert. "He was sullen, and he wouldn't answer when you asked him a question. He'd just grunt."
He started to change that same year, after Rosemary shipped him off to Winners' Camp, an intense weeklong seminar for teenagers designed to boost self-esteem and to promote leadership qualities. "He came back different from before," Norbert says. "He went from being an obnoxious teenager to a genuinely nice kid. And it happened overnight. To us it seemed a miracle."
"I remember how Shannon would kick his footballs every morning before the day started," says Delorese Gregoire, the camp's founding director. "He would be up at five and outside kicking by six. In the beginning a few kids showed up to shag for him, but as time went by, more and more turned out to help. By the end of camp nearly every kid was out there, about 90 in all, chasing after balls. They loved him."
They loved him at Kapaa High, too, where he played soccer until his senior year, in 1993, when he became the placekicker and the only Caucasian player on a football team dominated by kids of Hawaiian, Filipino and Japanese extraction. Thunder foot, his teammates called him.
That year Kapaa lost every game but one. Because the offense rarely scored, Shannon had few opportunities to show off his leg, and when he did get on the field, he looked like a displaced person. His first field goal attempt was from the 20-yard line. The holder fumbled the snap, and the ball rolled straight to Shannon, stopping at his feet. "Nobody had ever bothered to tell Shannon the rules," says his brother Shawn, 27. "He picks up the ball and looks at his coach on the sideline. The defensive line is coming through, and Shannon's like, Oh, s—-. He throws the ball straight up in the air, and five guys pounce on him. The pile clears, and Shannon's the last one on the ground. His helmet's turned sideways, and he's covered with mud and grass. 'Does that happen a lot?' he says to the coach. The coach says, 'No, the guy's supposed to catch the ball and hold it for you.' Shannon says, 'I thought so.' "
After attending a kicking camp on the mainland, Shannon enrolled at Southern Oregon State, an NAIA school. He played there one season (making three of the five field goals he attempted and 12 of 14 extra points) before transferring to Hawaii and trying out for its team. He had so improved his skills and knowledge of football that he wound up competing for the starting job. In the end, though, Shannon spent the 1996 season as a reserve. On Oct. 19 against UNLV, with 10:35 left, vonAppen let him kick off. It would be the only time he got in a game as a Rainbow Warrior.
"Shannon was a walk-on, but he never asked for anything but a chance," says vonAppen, who before taking over at Hawaii had been an assistant coach in the NFL and at several colleges, including UCLA and Colorado. "He would come into my office and sit down and say, 'How's it going, Coach? How do you like Hawaii?' As you get older, you're more suspicious of people, and I wondered if maybe he was trying to kiss up to me. But after a while I saw that he was genuinely warm and open. It was just his nature to care."
Almost every day at practice Cody vonAppen shagged balls for Shannon. Thea was there, too, watching from a distance. At home Fred had described Shannon as a special kid, the kind every father would want his daughter to date. Fred called him Jeff Bridges because he bore a striking resemblance to the movie actor. "I appreciate the compliment and all," Shannon used to say, "but Coach, Jeff Bridges is old."
"I'd ask him, 'Who are you dating, Shannon? Make sure you find a good girl,' " says Thea. "We just loved him."