Penn State's Shane Conlan in NCAA '14 HOF class


Penn State's Shane Conlan in NCAA '14 HOF class

The late great Derrick Thomas 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."

Georgia Tech quarterback Joe Hamilton was the Heisman runner-up to Ron Dayne in 1999.

Boselli played tackle at Southern California from 1991-94 and was the second overall draft pick by the Jacksonville Jaguars in 1995. Louisiana Tech tackle Willie Roaf was a finalist for the Outland Trophy as a senior in 1992 before going on to a long NFL career.

Sterling Sharpe held virtually every receiving record when he left South Carolina after the 1987 season.

The rest of the players who will be inducted during the National Football Foundation's awards banquet in December are: North Carolina cornerback Dre Bly; Purdue defensive tackle Dave Butz; Penn State linebacker Shane Conlan; Maine linebacker John Huard; Stanford running back Darrin Nelson; UCLA quarterback John Sciarra; McNeese State defensive back Leonard Smith; and Mississippi tight end Wesley Walls.

The two coaches who will join the Hall of Fame are Mike Bellotti, who led Oregon from 1995-2008, and Jerry Moore, who coached at North Texas, Texas Tech and Appalachian State.

Conlan, who was also in attendance, helped lead Penn State and coach Joe Paterno to the 1986 national championship.

"It's been a tough time the last few years at Penn State," he said, fighting back tears as he thanked the late Paterno. "We miss you, Coach," he said.

Sans Spellman, challenges face Villanova in run to repeat

Sans Spellman, challenges face Villanova in run to repeat

VILLANOVA, Pa. — Darryl Reynolds said it hurt. And he wasn’t alone. 

A month ago, Reynolds and the rest of the Villanova Wildcats found out five-star freshman big man Omari Spellman would not be eligible to play in 2016-17.

And despite Spellman — at 6-foot-9 and 260 pounds — being the biggest competition cutting into Reynolds’ playing time for his senior year, Reynolds understood the ramifications from losing what was expected to be a key cog in Villanova’s next run for glory.

“We lost a — no pun intended — big piece to the puzzle,” Reynolds said Tuesday at Villanova’s media day. “He went down, but everybody else has realized that we need that much more from everybody else.

“Me and Omari are close, in more ways than on the court. It would’ve been exciting to play with him. But it also provided that much more motivation.”

Motivation because Reynolds, a Lower Merion grad, also understands what the ramifications mean for him, too. The 6-foot-9, 240-pound senior may arguably be the most important player on the 2016-17 Wildcats. 

For three years, Reynolds has largely taken a backseat, hidden by the shadow of Daniel Ochefu. Now he’s front and center.

“He battled through that,” fellow senior Josh Hart said. “Never complained. Never had any down moments. Brought it every single day. We know he can play at this level.”

Reynolds heads a position in which Villanova was supposed to have depth. Now it has question marks. Reynolds and Spellman were going to be a 1-2 punch inside and a perfect supplement to a bevy of offensive talent around them. The question marks up front include sophomore Tim Delaney and freshman Dylan Painter. How quickly the two of them get going will be big. And so, too, will be figuring out where Fordham transfer forward Eric Paschall fits in the rotation.

Coach Jay Wright, who said Reynolds would be a starter, talked more about the other pieces behind Reynolds when asked what he’d be expecting from the senior big man.

“I think part of our challenge is Tim Delaney and Dylan Painter,” Wright said. “Which one of them, if not both of them, can step up and give us the depth that Darryl gave us last year up front when we needed size? Down the stretch in big games against big-time teams, you need that size. We’ve got to develop Tim and Dylan and see how they do with that, see how Eric Paschall can do. Can he play bigger? We definitely have our challenges.”

Those challenges also include replacing leadership roles vacated by Ryan Arcidiacono, Ochefu and a trio of walk-ons.

Insert Reynolds there, too. The Wildcats will start three seniors this year. Hart and Kris Jenkins may do most of the scoring, but they’re pretty reserved off the court and when talking to the media.

“Obviously Ryan (Arcidiacono) was a great leader for us. He was our rock,” Hart said. “When you look at this team, a lot of times we look at [Reynolds]. He calms everybody down. He vocally tries to make sure everybody’s on one accord. Basketball-wise, he’s always been good. You saw the Providence game last year when we needed him to step up and he had, what, like 19 and 11?”

Hart remembers the numbers well, even if he added an extra rebound to the ledger. Reynolds was 9 for 10 from the floor and had two blocks in 36 minutes of action to help the Wildcats earn revenge with a road win after the Friars beat them in Philadelphia two weeks prior.

That game was the last of a three-game stretch in late January into early February when Ochefu was sidelined with a concussion. Reynolds’ minutes over that stretch: 29, 31 and 36, respectively.

That experience, Reynolds says, coupled with the rest of 2015-16 — when he saw an uptick in minutes from his sophomore season’s 5.4 per game to 17.1 per game — will be easy to draw from in 2016-17.

“There’s nothing like getting out there and actually playing,” Reynolds said. “You see a lot from the sidelines. You learn a lot playing spot minutes. You get different things. But just being out there throughout entire games, playing 20-plus minutes, it teaches you things that you could never have learned from another perspective. I learned a lot from those experiences and I think it made me the player that I am in many ways. It’s the same thing with this year. I’m still going to learn a ton in a sense of being out there that much more and not having Daniel. 

“In many ways he taught me a lot. So not having him, not having that voice in my ear, not having that guy to go against in practice, it will make me grow up. 

“Nothing wrong with that,” he said with a smile.

Temple picked to finish 6th in AAC preseason poll

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Temple picked to finish 6th in AAC preseason poll

This is starting to become a trend. One Temple hopes to continue to prove wrong.

For the third straight year, Temple was chosen to finish sixth in the American Athletic Conference preseason poll. The poll, which was released on Monday, is voted on by the conference's head coaches.

Also selected to finish sixth last season, the Owls posted a 21-12 overall record and a 14-4 mark in the AAC to reach the NCAA Tournament. In 2014-15, TU tied for third in the AAC with a 13-5 record and was one of the last teams left out of the Big Dance.

Cincinnati was tabbed to win the American title in the poll, just ahead of UConn.

Temple, who returns three starters from last season's team, opens the 2016-17 campaign against city rival La Salle at the Liacouras Center on Nov. 11.