Welcome to one of the most unique things you’ll find on the Penn State football beat — our point-counterpoint columns. This weekly component, which is not done by any other outlet, started a few years ago at the Altoona Mirror with Cory Giger and Neil Rudel, who has covered the Nittany Lions for more than 40 years. We’re happy to say that the point-counterpoint will continue, thanks to an agreement between Nittany Sports Now and the Altoona Mirror to share the content.
This week’s question: Who is your favorite unheralded PSU recruit?
Rudel: In this category, 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.’’’
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.”
Neil Rudel can be reached at email@example.com.
Giger: McGloin’s amazing story shows he’s ultimate underdog
Christian Hackenberg was a five-star recruit. So was Anthony Morelli.
Penn State’s recent four-star quarterback recruits include Rob Bolden, Pat Devlin, Paul Jones and Kevin Newsome.
I can hear your collective groans.
Not a single one of those guys ever went on to start a game at quarterback in the NFL.
You know who did?
Of course you do.
A zero-star recruit. A walk-on. A guy who had the biggest chip on his shoulder that you’ll ever see.
A guy with … wait for it … moxie.
I never get tired of writing or talking about McGloin. In my 15 years on the Penn State beat, he is my favorite player that I’ve covered.
When you’re talking unheralded recruits, it just doesn’t get any better than McGloin, the scrappy Scranton kid who battled his tail off, never stopped believing in himself and proved everyone wrong.
The only person who ever believed that McGloin could get the job done was McGloin.
Joe and Jay Paterno didn’t really believe in him. They kept running out Bolden, who was awful, as PSU’s starting quarterback deep into the 2011 season.
McGloin was so vastly superior to Bolden that you just had to wonder what the heck truly was going on there. Did Joe and Jay promise Bolden something? Did they not want to turn the job over to a walk-on for fear of how bad it would look?
I cannot wait for McGloin, who is extremely candid — something those of us in the media loved when covering him — finally gets around to writing a book detailing his thoughts on what that whole nutty QB situation was all about.
Anyway, we all know what happened with McGloin.
Bill O’Brien took over as coach in 2012, and McGloin finally had someone else who believed in him. The QB excelled as a senior, throwing for 3,271 yards with 24 TDs and five interceptions.
Of course, McGloin went undrafted. And of course, that didn’t matter. It was yet another obstacle for him to overcome.
He did that and started seven games in the NFL as a quarterback, playing in 13 total. Yeah, he was only 1-6 in those seven starts, but honestly, who cares.
Matt McGloin made it. He also made $4.1 million playing quarterback in the NFL.
No other quarterback who has played for Penn State this century has gone on to start a game at QB in the NFL.
The ultimate underdog.
Cory Giger is editor of NittanySportsNow.com and host of “Sports Central” weekdays from 3-4 on WRTA. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.