Paul Shannon doesn't bother trying to talk individual accomplishments with his son Davonte anymore. What's the use? Paul knows that Davonte's going to deflect the conversation away from himself and toward the team as a whole. He's going to say that statistics and honors rank a distant second to group success.
"Davonte's such a humble kid it's hard to get him to talk about himself," Paul said by phone. "Someday he'll realize the magnitude of what he's accomplished. He'll look back on it and say, 'Wow.' "
Many players have emerged from the Mid-American Conference and gone on to solid NFL careers, in some instances attaining stardom. Chad Pennington and Byron Leftwich played at Marshall when it was a member of the MAC. Jason Taylor came out of Akron, Ben Roethlisberger out of Miami (Ohio). Michael Turner was a Northern Illinois running back, Phil Villapiano a Bowling Green linebacker. Kent State gave the NFL Jack Lambert, James Harrison, Antonio Gates and Josh Cribbs.
Shannon heads into his senior season at the University at Buffalo poised to secure a rare honor none of the aforementioned achieved. Only three players in the history of the MAC were four-time first-team all-conference selections. Bowling Green's Brian McClure became the first when he was named at quarterback from 1982 to '85. Ohio punter Dave Zastudil topped the charts from 1998 to 2001, and Toledo defensive back Barry Church from 2006 to '09. Shannon, a three-time first-team selection at safety, is one more solid season away from joining them.
"It would mean a lot to be in that category and become the fourth player ever to do something like that," Shannon said. "It would mean a lot and I think it would display the type of coaching that I've had, the players that have been around me to help me to be the player that I am today. It's all the coaches and the players that have been around me."
Shannon's a testament to the uncertainties of projecting and recruiting talent. He figured prominently as Jeannette marched to the Pennsylvania state high school championship game his senior season and he also starred in basketball. But while scouts flocked to see that team's quarterback, current Ohio State junior Terrelle Pryor, Shannon went unnoticed by the likes of nearby Pitt and West Virginia and other BCS schools.
"It was a big disappointment seeing all the players I played against and the players I played with -- especially with Terrelle Pryor being the No. 1 recruit in the country -- and seeing the opportunities that he had to play at any school he wanted to," Shannon said. "And I felt I could play at any school, too, but the opportunity wasn't given to me. When I got on the field I just wanted to prove to each team what they missed out on and what kind of player I was."
The impact was profound once Shannon entered the starting lineup four games into his freshman year with the Bulls. His 123 tackles that season set a school Division I-A record, ranked tops among the nation's freshmen.
"I remember coming in as a freshman and I wasn't starting my first few games and my whole mind-set was, 'How can I help the team, whether it was special teams or if I got my chance to start?' " Shannon said. "My sophomore year came as being able to repeat what I did and continue to play at that level. And after that it was just building off your season and being able to see what things I needed to work on each season to get better as a player each year."
As his father said, individual statistics don't mean much to his son. Numbers often depend on the flow of the game, whether opponents come at you or steer away. Shannon's more interested in showing solid leadership, lending support to his younger teammates, doing and saying the things to help an experienced Bulls defense to reach its full potential. There, too, head coach Jeff Quinn pointed out, he already excels.
"He's locked in all the time," Quinn said. "His level of concentration, he's a tight-minded, focused young man. And that's why he's been a three-time all-MAC performer. So it's no surprise to me as a football coach who didn't know Davonte Shannon until I came here to Buffalo, it didn't take me long to realize why he's been so successful on the field. We talk about young men bringing others along. Davonte not only takes care of himself, but he also has the ability to bring others along. And he raises that level of focus and concentration and mental toughness that is so important to having a great defense."
As a high school senior, Shannon wondered why the big schools weren't interested, why he seemed to be overlooked. Heading into his senior season at UB as a three-time all-MAC first-teamer, he can see where what transpired constitutes a blessing.
"If I went to a big school I probably wouldn't have played right away," he said. "I probably would have been starting just my senior year or my junior year or something like that. So I'm just thankful for the opportunity that I had to come in and play right away and be able to contribute to the team and win a championship and hopefully win a championship this year."