The Post-Journal

Conlan Finds Media Tougher To Avoid Than A Block

STATE COLLEGE, Pa -- It used to be that Shane Conlan could slip away from Beaver Stadium and the dozens of reporters and photographers that converge annually for Media Day as easily as he avoids the block of an opposing tight end.

He'd answer some questions, give his opinion on Penn State's prospects for the coming season and then make his way back to the friendly confines of the Nittany Lion locker room.

No fuss, no muss.

But after earning All-America honors last year for a school that many experts figure will challenge for the national championship for the second year in a row, things have changed for the Frewsburg native.

Thursday afternoon was a perfect example.

As soon as he was through posing for the obligatory team pictures, Conlan was besieged by reporters and television camera crews for interviews which lasted more than an hour.

Yet Conlan seemed almost comfortable answering questions over and over again. At least in comparison to his freshman year.

"I remember my freshman year," Conlan said. "I was up in Pittsburgh and I had a pretty good game. That was the first time I talked to anybody. Nothing was coming out right."

"But you get used to it. You talk to so many people you get used to it. It's easy now. At times, I slip (and) start thinking about other things, but most of the time I'm pretty comfortable."

The questions ranged from why he decided to return to Penn State for his final year of eligibility to how he felt about being the cover boy on The Sporting News College Football Yearbook.

"It's weird," he said. "In high school, you did your best and that was it. Nobody said anything. Here you do your best and you have a lot of people talking to you. It's different."

Conlan recalled a couple of years ago how he used to watch the "stars" of the team being interviewed during Media Day. "I was just thinking, 'When can we leave,'" he said of his thoughts at the time.

"(Now) it's quite an honor. I always thought, 'These are the great players and they deserve to be there.'"

This year it was Conlan's turn.

"I'm smarter," he said. "Out on the field, I can recognize things a little faster than I could two years ago."

Conlan finished last year's regular season with 91 tackles, including four 10-tackle games. And it was at the Orange Bowl where he really made a name for himself, registering six tackles, including a pair of quarterback sacks in a 25-10 loss to Oklahoma. Some observers called it one of the best single linebacking performances in the school's history.

But Conlan modestly shrugged off his play in that game. "I played decent, but not as good as some people think I did," he said. "I had the quarterback, but it wasn't like he was Superman."

Teammate and fellow linebacker Trey Bauer thinks it's about time Conlan received some recognition.

"He had a great game," Bauer said. "I think it was about time he got the recognition. I think he deserves it. He's a great player and a good friend of mine. It was just a matter of time before he showed what kind of player he could be."

Conlan's efforts aren't lost on Joe Paterno, the Penn State coach who has seen a few fair linebackers come out of Happy Valley.

"I think Shane can be a better football player than he was last year," Paterno said. "I think he will be. I think he'll be stronger... He's worked hard at that... He looks stronger. He can run and he's an awfully fine athlete."

Paterno is also looking to Conlan for leadership, something the team is lacking after the graduation of Mike Zordich, Rogers Alexander and Lance Hamilton.

"I'm not too wild, a jumping-up-and-down guy, but I'd like to be in that position where players look to me," Conlan said.

Conlan also had some thoughts on some other matters.

On Penn State being rated one of the top teams in the country: "We know how it is to lose that last game. Plus we have the same guys, except for a couple, and we know how it is to win and what it took to get up there."

On returning for his final year of eligibility: "I was decent last year. I just want to be the best I can be whether it's the best in the country or the best at Penn State. I just want to be the best I can be. I don't think I've reached my potential yet."

On the possibility of injury: "You could get hurt walking down the street. I'm not worried about that."

On working at the "Second Mile," a camp for troubled youths this summer: "I think I've grown a lot just realizing the problems out there and working with kids. I like working with kids."

His reaction to be on TNS College Football Yearbook: "It was a surprise to me. It's not going to change me. I'm the same guy, same player."

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