NEW YORK — Shane Conlan played high school football in western New York on teams with some linemen who weighed 140 pounds.
He was discovered by longtime Penn State defensive coordinator Tom Bradley, who decided to offer the 170-pound kid from Frewsburg a scholarship after watching him play basketball.
Conlan proved he belonged at his first college practice, and Bradley’s faith in him was rewarded.
“I was doing one-on-one drills against the starting tight end and I did really well,” Conlan said.
The former All-America linebacker who helped the Nittany Lions win their last national title is part of a class of 14 former players and two coaches inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame on Tuesday.
That group included former Louisiana Tech and Saints tackle Willie Roaf and former McNeese State safety Leonard Smith.
Roaf was a consensus All-American in 1992 and a finalist for the Outland Trophy.
The eighth overall pick by the Saints in the 1993 NFL draft, Roaf spent 13 years in the NFL with the Saints and Kansas City Chiefs, culminating with his induction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2012. An 11-time Pro Bowl selection, he is a member of the NFL 1990s All-Decade Team as well as the New Orleans Saints Hall of Fame and Ring of Honor.
Smith, a New Orleans native who attended Lee High in Baton Rouge, was a 1982 first-team All-American at McNeese.
He led the Cowboys to a 32-12-2 record and back-to-back conference titles and Independence Bowl berths in 1979 and 1980.
Smith holds school records for blocked kicks in a season with six and in a career with 17.
Picked 17th overall by the St. Louis Cardinals in the first round of the 1983 NFL draft, Smith played nine seasons in the NFL. He helped lead the Bills to Super Bowls XXV and XXVI.
The group of honorees at the National Football Foundation awards banquet also included: North Carolina cornerback Dre Bly; Southern California offensive tackle Tony Boselli; Purdue defensive tackle Dave Butz; Georgia Tech quarterback Joe Hamilton; Maine linebacker John Huard; Stanford halfback Darrin Nelson; South Carolina wide receiver Sterling Sharpe; TCU running back LaDainian Tomlinson; Ole Miss tight end Wesley Walls; and the late Derrick Thomas, who dominated at linebacker for Alabama.
“I know that big smile is smiling down on us today,” said Thomas’ mother, Edith Morgan, who represented him a morning news conference at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel in midtown Manhattan.
Thomas had 27 sacks and won the Butkus Award as the nation’s top linebacker in 1988 before going on to a successful NFL career with the Kansas City Chiefs. He was paralyzed in an automobile wreck in 2000 and died from complications about a month later. He was 33.
Conlan was also one of the most dominant linebackers of the 1980s. He had two interceptions in his final college game as Penn State upset Miami 14-10 in the Fiesta Bowl to win the national title.
“I guess (Miami quarterback) Vinny (Testaverde) threw it to the wrong guy,” said Conlan, who played nine NFL seasons, most of them with the Buffalo Bills.
Conlan thanked Bradley, who is now a defensive assistant at West Virginia after spending 35 years at Penn State as a player and coach under Joe Paterno.
Bradley said he had to convince Paterno to give Conlan one of the last scholarships Penn State had available that year.
“Tom found me,” Conlan said. “I owe him everything.”
The coaches being inducted were Jerry Moore, who won I-AA national titles at Appalachian State and led the Mountaineers to an upset against Michigan in 2007, and Mike Bellotti, the winningest coach in Oregon history.