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Except for his administration of justice studies—he has a 3.0 GPA and will receive his degree next month—and regular trips to the movies with his girlfriend, Penn State senior Caroline Wesel, Conlan suffers no distractions during the season. His room is a Mount Nittany of dirty laundry. He drives around campus in his dad's old boat of a Chrysler, which apparently hasn't been washed and waxed since before preseason camp. "It's called a Magnum," Conlan says. "I like that name—isn't it great? Magnum."
Not surprisingly, Conlan is an avid Raiders fan. "I call them the death team," he says. "I love the way they play defense, especially Matt Millen. They just fly to the ball. They're a bunch of crazies, man."
Conlan looks a bit crazed himself when he takes the field. For one thing, one of his front teeth is missing. It came out in a high school game a few years back. Conlan leaves his upper plate in the locker room with his other collegiate essentials: textbooks and permanently untied Reebok tennies.
The cost of football has not been lost on Conlan's parents. "He had beautiful teeth," says Dan Conlan of his son.
"The best teeth of all the kids," adds Kay, Shane's mother, somewhat wistfully.
The Conlans have followed their son's career loyally. They would make the 3½-hour drive to State College from tiny Frewsburg. N.Y. (pop. 1,908), 70 miles from Buffalo, often with daughter Kelly, 26, and son Kevin. 24. Kay and Kelly were forced to miss several of Shane's games when Kevin was punting for Edinboro (Pa.) University and the youngest Conlan child, Michael, now a redshirt freshman linebacker at Rutgers, was playing at Frewsburg Central School. "Whenever any of the boys had a game, one of us always had to go," says Kay. "We were afraid that sometime somebody would get hurt and nobody would be there."
The Conlan household was and is one of discipline and caring. Dan Conlan is an investigator with the New York State Police, his wife a part-time cashier at the only grocery store in Frewsburg. They didn't complain much when the boys broke all the garage-door windows playing basketball in the driveway, or dented the aluminum siding with baseballs and footballs. But the kids had to study hard and come home early if they went out. "People don't believe me when I tell them I never even touched a beer until my sophomore year at Penn State," says Shane. "But it's true. None of my brothers ever drank, and neither did my close friends."
Early on, Shane began showing unusual compassion for those less fortunate than he. During high school he tutored special-education students in reading and math in his free periods. "The kids really looked up to Shane a lot," says his best friend, John Tread-way, who also was a tutor. "He can be impatient about some things, but he was very patient with those kids. A couple of them became managers for our football and basketball teams and always hung around him. Shane helped them in so many ways."
When Shane was in eighth grade, he watched his brother Kevin, a gifted running back, destroy his left knee in a high school football game. The knee was so horribly torn up—only one small ligament remained—that the leg swung loosely from side to side like a pendulum.
Shane still talks about how his brother worked to come back, how he joined the swim team and lifted weights constantly and was somehow able to punt the next year and eventually play defensive back as a senior. "It was unbelievable," Shane says. "He was such a great athlete. He's probably still a better athlete than I am."