UNIVERSITY PARK - Former Penn State All-America linebacker Shane Conlan, the leader of the Nittany Lions' tenacious 1985-86 defenses, has been elected to the National Football Foundation College Football Hall of Fame. Conlan is the 18th Penn State player to receive college football's ultimate honor.
Conlan will be inducted with other members of the Class of 2014 at the National Football Foundation's 57th annual awards dinner on December 9 at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel in New York City. He will become the 23rd member of the Penn State program inducted, joining 17 other former players and five Nittany Lion coaches. The most recent Penn State player so honored was running back Curt Warner in 2009.
"It's a great honor to join all the former Penn State players and all the great players in the College Football Hall of Fame," said Conlan. "It's very humbling. The list of nominees was such a distinguished group."
A native of Frewsburg, N.Y, Conlan was a standout at Frewsburg Central High School before going to Penn State, where he was instrumental in the Nittany Lions posting a 23-1 mark his last two seasons, capped by the 1986 National Championship. A senior co-captain in 1986, Conlan led Penn State to a stunning 14-10 win over No. 1 Miami (Fla.) in the 1987 Fiesta Bowl to capture Penn State's second national title in five seasons.
Another nominee included the late Derrick Thomas, who grew up in Miami and played his entire 11-year NFL career in Kansas City.
In between he spent four years at the University of Alabama, dominating on defense as few players have ever done in college football history.
"Alabama meant everything to Derrick, even after he moved to Kansas City," Edith Morgan, Thomas' mother, said Thursday. "He still had his Alabama (license) plates and went back to Alabama whenever he could."
It took longer than Crimson Tide fans would have liked, but Thomas was elected Thursday to the College Football Hall of Fame, highlighting a class of 14 players that also includes LaDainian Tomlinson, Sterling Sharpe and Tony Boselli.
Thomas, who died in 2000 at age 33 shortly after an automobile accident left him paralyzed, was one of the Hall of Fame's most obvious omissions. Alabama fans had been growing increasingly annoyed by the wait in recent years.
His credentials could not be argued against. After choosing to attend Alabama over Oklahoma, Thomas played for the Tide from 1985-88. He won the Butkus Award as the nation's best linebacker as a senior when he had 27 sacks. He finished his career with 52 sacks, a school record.
"He was really, really fond of Alabama and he loved the Crimson Tide, not only the school but the city of Tuscaloosa itself," Morgan said.
Thomas was drafted fourth overall by the Kansas City Chiefs in 1989 and made nine Pro Bowls. He was elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2009.
The new College Football Hall of Fame class announced by the National Football Foundation at a news conference in Dallas also featured a couple of Heisman Trophy finalists and two of the best offensive linemen of the early 1990s.
Tomlinson led the nation in rushing in his final two seasons at TCU (1999 and 2000) and finished fourth in the Heisman voting in 2000.
"This is a great honor," said Tomlinson, who attended the news conference. "As a kid you never set out to land in the College Football Hall of Fame. You're just playing with your buddies, having fun, playing a game that you love."
Tomlinson thanked TCU for giving him a chance.
"TCU was the first school to offer me a scholarship," he said. "I didn't have many, but they believed in me."