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Norwin graduate Shanahan hopes for NFL call during draft weekend

| Wednesday, April 24, 2013, 9:01 p.m.
Eric Schmadel | Tribune-Review
Norwin wide receiver Mike Shanahan stiff-arms Gateway defensive back Jeff Parrish to the ground on a 49-yard catch that set up the go-ahead Norwin touchdown with 12 seconds before the half during their Sept. 21, 2007, game at Norwin Knights Stadium in North Huntingdon.

Mike Shanahan plans to gather with family and friends this weekend at his childhood home in North Huntingdon to watch the NFL Draft.

He'll pay closer attention than usual Saturday, when the final four rounds take place.

Shanahan, a 2008 Norwin graduate who spent the past five seasons at Pitt, has an outside chance to be drafted in the later rounds this weekend. If not, he'll likely be picked up as an undrafted free agent.

“I'm not going to be expecting anything on Thursday or Friday,” Shanahan said. “But Saturday I think I'm going to pay pretty good attention (to the draft), for good or for worse. We'll find out.”

If Shanahan does get that NFL call this weekend, his next action on the football field will probably come at a new position.

As NFL.com analyst Gil Brandt wrote in a blog after Pitt's March 6 pro day, when Shanahan posted 40-yard dash times of 4.81 and 4.84 seconds, Shanahan's best NFL chance likely comes at tight end instead of his usual position of wide receiver. Shanahan's agent, Bill Parise, said most NFL teams are looking at him as a tight end.

The news wasn't unexpected for Shanahan.

“I think I had a chance to be an H-back type of tight end and be able to still run routes and do a lot of catching more than blocking,” Shanahan said. “I think that's what my niche would be, but I'd still be willing to get in there and block.”

“I think (tight end is) where the direction's headed, and I kind of sensed that.”

In preparation for the position switch, Shanahan put on between 10 and 12 pounds to get above 240. He has the potential to add more or to shed the weight he's already gained if a team does want to try him as a receiver.

“We're letting teams make the decision,” Parise said. “We're not forcing them into a decision by putting on 25 pounds or something like that.”

Between the end of Pitt's season in January and its pro day, Shanahan worked out in Buffalo with former Pitt strength coach Buddy Morris. Since returning, he's worked out in Bridgeville, focusing on strength and conditioning as well as football drills such as route-running and pass-catching.

He's also working on his blocking, which he said would be his biggest adjustment as a tight end.

“I definitely still need to work on (blocking bigger players),” Shanahan said. “It's different than trying to block corners and safeties, but I think I have the tools to be able to be pretty good at it.”

Shanahan played in the Casino Del Sol College All-Star Game in January in Tucson, Ariz. Parise said 11 NFL teams spoke to Shanahan during the week leading up to the game, and the interest hasn't waned since. The New England Patriots' tight end coach came to Pittsburgh to put Shanahan through an individual workout, and Parise said several teams told him Shanahan was a “draftable player.”

“He's prototypical of today's tight ends,” Parise said. “It wasn't so long ago that tight ends were a small tackle that blocked and caught two passes a year. Now they're big wide receivers that are running great pass routes and catching 60 to 70 passes a year. Certainly Mike fits that role.”

An NFL position change wouldn't mark the first time Shanahan switched gears. He starred in both basketball and football at Norwin, becoming a Division I prospect in both. Though Shanahan originally planned to pursue basketball in college, he switched to football after a senior season in which he caught 11 touchdown passes, including five in one game against Gateway.

“He was a tremendous athlete and still to this day is a tremendous athlete,” said Dan Conwell, the Norwin football coach during Shanahan's time there. “He has the heart and the mind to play this sport, and that's a rare combination ­— especially when you can see it so early in a high school career.”

Shanahan chose Pitt over West Virginia and Stanford. He redshirted the 2008 season but caught 159 passes over the next four seasons to rank fifth all-time in Pitt history. He caught 62 passes for 983 yards and six touchdowns his senior season, including three 100-yard performances.

Whether that production translates into a draft pick ­— or NFL success — remains anyone's guess. Shanahan is just hoping for an opportunity.

“I think it's realistic that I might have a chance to get picked up in one of the later rounds, so obviously I'm hoping for that,” Shanahan said. “But if that doesn't happen, that's fine. I know a lot of guys made teams as free agents, so I'll just try my best to do that.”

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