UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. -- A.Q. Shipley doesn't get defensive anymore. He finally has grown into his position at Penn State.
The one-time defensive tackle and offensive guard from Moon Area High School has blossomed into one of the country's top centers.
A fifth-year senior, Shipley has made 26 consecutive starts. Not only is the first-team All-Big Ten performer the anchor of the Nittany Lions' veteran offensive line, he once again is a candidate for the Rimington Award, which is given to the nation's top center.
Shipley's name also appears on the preseason watch lists for the Lombardi Award (best lineman or linebacker) and Outland Trophy (best interior lineman).
It's quite a reversal for a guy who seriously considered transferring to another school after his redshirt freshman season in 2005, when he shuffled between defensive tackle, guard and center in a two-month span.
"I came here to play defense, but, after all the moving around, offense to defense, defense to offense, I wasn't happy at all and I thought about leaving for a little bit," Shipley said. "I sat down and talked it over with my parents and coach.
"Coach [Joe] Paterno was very honest with me. He said, `Look, you could be an NFL player as a nose guard, but I think you could be a 10-year guy at center.' I took his word. I trusted him.
"I knew it was a place I could help the team. I knew it was a place where I could get on the field more. I knew it was a place I could start. I'm glad I listened. I actually love offense about 10 times more than defense now."
Paterno said he permanently moved Shipley to center out of "desperation" in the spring of 2006.
"We needed a center," Paterno said. "Shipley wasn't happy about it at the time. He was a natural nose guard. ... I think it's worked out and I think he's happy with it.
"It was a good move for the team because Shipley has become a real strong leader. He's a bright kid, good worker, and we needed some leadership on offense."
Shipley, one of the team's most vocal leaders, was elected as a co-captain this spring. He was the first lineman to receive that honor since Matt Schmitt in 2002, and the first center since Barry Tielsch from Penn Hills in 1996.
Shipley, 6 feet 1 and 300 pounds, has plenty of support up front.
Gerald Cadogan, a fifth-year senior, started all 13 games at left tackle last season and has made 18 career starts. Left guard Rich Ohrnberger, another fifth-year senior, has made 22 consecutive starts. Right tackle Dennis Landolt, a redshirt junior, started every game last year.
Right guard Stefen Wisniewski from Central Catholic, has just one start to his credit, but he beat out fifth-year senior Mike Lucian this spring. Lucian, now backing up Shipley at center, started eight games a year ago.
"This is one of the meanest offensive lines I've seen here, and it all starts with A.Q." said Josh Gaines, a fifth-year senior defensive end and co-captain.
Penn State rushed for 190 yards or more in six of its last eight games, including a season-high 270 and 6.6-yard average in the 24-17 victory against Texas A&M in the Alamo Bowl. The line only allowed six sacks during that eight-game stretch while helping tailback Rodney Kinlaw become the fourth back in the past six years to gain more than 1,000 yards.
This year, the line will be pass protecting for two quarterbacks (Daryll Clark and Pat Devlin) and blocking for three tailbacks (Even Royster, backup Stephfon Green and Brent Carter).
"We have a real strong offensive line," Shipley said. "We're feeling good. We're very excited for the season to get under way. We think we can do some big things this year."
Shipley will have a bird's-eye view of whatever transpires this year.
"You hear the thing every year, but it's true," he said. "You only go as far as the offensive line takes you."
Ron Musselman can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org . First Published August 15, 2008 4:00 AM