After Kevin's injury Shane became the family's three-sport star. He could dunk in ninth grade and was such a good catcher that, when he was 18, the Pirates brought him to Three Rivers Stadium for a solo tryout and offered him a contract on the spot. In football he kicked off and started at linebacker and tailback, gaining 1,000 yards as a senior. "He just ran over people," says Tom Sharp, the football coach for Frewsburg Central School. "He was head and shoulders above anybody else."
To Conlan's surprise no major schools except Penn State seriously recruited him. His school was too small, and he weighed just 185 pounds. Never mind that from the time Shane was 12 years old he had hit like a sledgehammer. Sharp had to twist the arm of Penn State assistant Tom Bradley to get the Nittany Lions to take a look at Conlan. Bradley finally drove to Frewsburg through a snowstorm, cursing himself all the way, to watch Conlan play basketball.
"I was planning to duck out after the first quarter," Bradley recalls. "But this kid came out slam-dunking and really put on a show. He was all over the court, diving after loose balls. He played basketball the way he plays football—nonstop and reckless. I knew he was a football player when he fouled out with about six minutes left in the third quarter."
The Pirates' offer was tempting, but Conlan had his heart set on attending Linebacker U. "If every school in the country had offered me a scholarship, I still would have picked Penn State," he says. "I liked the defense. And I loved the uniform and the black shoes."
He loved the uniform?
Conlan's doubts about his ability to play Division I football vanished once he put on the pads and started beating up on hulking upperclassmen in preseason camp. "After the first day, Joe said, 'Boy, he's going to be some kind of player,' " recalls Bradley. But overcoming his social reticence was a bigger challenge for Conlan. "Even in high school, when he was the big star, he was too shy to talk to anybody," says Treadway. "He was never really close to anybody except me and his brother Kevin."
After redshirting the Nittany Lions' national championship year—a frustrating season for Conlan, who was beset by constant sprained ankles and regular fistfights with his own offensive linemen in practice—Shane started gaining size and confidence. But, to this day, Conlan has never been bold enough to as much as address his teammates at a meeting.
Two other things Conlan hasn't learned to do are seek favors and complain. He has taken a lesson from his ever-cheerful friend Treadway, who was born with a cleft palate and went through massive facial reconstruction surgery last year. "He had to be in such pain—they had to break his jaw and rewire it—but it never got him down," says Conlan.
"I was up in the hospital in Buffalo, and Shane kept calling," says Treadway. "The day after I got home he drove all the way up from Penn State just so that he could be there. He does things like that."
Conlan still tends to blush and keep his head down when he's greeted by fans after games. "I guess it's embarrassing," he says. "People ask me certain things, you know, like why are you so good or something."