Every week, as part of an on-going series, we’ll pose five questions to an old-timer, NFL’er or commit in the Penn State football world.
Last time, we spoke to 2002 Heisman Trophy finalist Larry Johnson, and he’s followed by this week’s subject — two-time All-American and Penn State record-holding linebacker Dan Connor.
Check it out:
CDT: Some might not realize this, but you’re Penn State’s all-time leader with 419 tackles. The next closest guy is Paul Posluszny with 372. How much pride do you take in that mark and, now that your playing days are over, have you had the time to reflect on that?
DC: When I broke the record, I don’t think it really sunk in. When I was younger, I was always kind of looking on to the next thing: What else can I do? And how can I further my career? Now that my playing career is in the rear-view mirror, I can appreciate it and just feel proud to get that record and do it having played with Paul (Posluszny) and Sean (Lee) and all those guys. That mark means being a successful team, and that was always our goal. We competed with each other. Paul broke the record (in 2006) with me and Sean right on his track. That’s what we were going for. It’s something I appreciate more and more with time, and it’s the same with my playing days. I hadn’t been back since 2007, my last season, so it’d been 10 years. A month ago I went to a coaches clinic, and it just brings up old memories, some of the best days that I’ve had.
CDT: Of those 419 tackles, is there one that stands out as your favorite?
DC: Not really. I mean, I’d have to watch some film to see. What sticks out to me is the wins and the bowl games, the Orange Bowl win especially. Winter conditioning sticks out to me, having to wake up at 5 a.m. with all the roommates walking out not even talking, the summer programs — those are the things that stick out. Those memories of being able to work alongside your friends all year-round. That’s the stuff I miss the most.
CDT: Throughout your career at Penn State you played alongside Sean Lee and, for one NFL season with the Cowboys, you reunited with him. Forming that Linebacker U duo, what was your relationship with Sean like at Penn State, and how cool was it to meet up in the NFL?
DC: Being able to work with Sean and see how he works from his freshman year — Day 1, when he came on campus, I think he was the hardest-working guy I had ever been around, and he didn’t let up from there. He had those same attributes when we met back up with the Cowboys. He’s a respected leader, playing great football and excelling at that level. His work ethic and dedication and commitment, it’s unmatched, and it’s served him well.
CDT: In September 2014, you started coaching linebackers at West Chester University, and last year became the head coach at Archbishop Carroll High School. Did you always know you wanted to get into coaching, and do you see this as a long-term career for you now?
DC: I always knew, especially in Year 5 and 6 in the NFL, when you’re starting to look down the road a little bit. Even if you have a long career in the NFL, it’s short in the terms of how long your life is. I was looking toward that next thing. Both my older brothers are high school coaches, my dad’s a high school coach and coached in college, so I come from a family of coaches, and football is pretty much all I know. I knew that was a field I wanted to get into. ... I’m as passionate about coaching as I was when I was playing. I hope to pass on all the knowledge I have. In the NFL I had five different defensive coordinators and four or five different head coaches, and I was fortunate to play under Joe Paterno at Penn State. I have all these great coaches to learn from.
CDT: What kind of advice have you received from former coaches at Penn State or in the NFL?
DC: A lot of coaches who were at Penn State are all over the country now. I kept a close relationship with (former Penn State linebackers coach) Ron Vanderlinden. He was influential for me, because he’s about as good as it gets when it comes to coaching technique and getting the most out of players. And also, I’ve got a notebook that’s filled front-to-back, both sides of the page of notes I’ve taken on coaches I’ve been under. When I was playing, I had two separate notebooks — I had the coaching notebook and a playing notebook. You rip through about 20 player notebooks a season at least, but the coaching notebook was a little more cleaner, more concise. I’d hear a quote or a theme for the week or coaching styles, I would just jot it down. That’s been great for me, being a new coach and a new head coach, especially at the high school level. You see stuff you never thought would pop up, and I’ve been able to draw back on that, take all that great wisdom I’ve gathered from coaches, and kind of pass it off as my own.