PG West: Moon High grad Shipley hopes Eagles offer chance to stick in NFL

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Of course, A.Q. Shipley is familiar with Hank Fraley.

The two play the same position, and Fraley played his college ball in Shipley's neighborhood. Shipley is hoping the similarities don't end there.

After playing at Robert Morris University, Fraley was signed by the Steelers but never played in a game for them and ultimately became a starter after hooking on with the Philadelphia Eagles.

Shipley, a Moon Area High School graduate who played center at Penn State, was a seventh-round draft pick of the Steelers, spent his rookie season on the team's practice squad, then signed a contract with the Eagles last week.

Fraley became a starter at center in his second season in the NFL (2001) and remained one for the Eagles for years, including during Super Bowl XXXIX. He still is playing for the Cleveland Browns.

Shipley would welcome a career like that. The parallels, to this point, are striking.

"So far, it looks like it's going that way," Shipley said while apartment hunting in Philadelphia Monday. "Hopefully I can go on and make an impact like he did. He's a heck of a center, and I'm not there yet. But I'm hoping to contribute in some way."

Shipley elected to sign with the Eagles because he believed they offered him the best opportunity for playing time next season. He will study and work out with the team in the offseason and fight for a roster spot come training camp.

"It looks like a better opportunity for me to go in there and compete," Shipley said. "I made a decision, and I'm really looking forward to it. Now I just have to take advantage of an opportunity if it presents itself."

The apartment hunting Shipley was doing this week was the first such experience of his life. Drafted by the Steelers after a stellar career at Penn State, he didn't have to worry about adjusting to a new city and surroundings along with the jump in level of football and different lifestyle the vast majority of NFL rookies have to undergo.

Shipley spent the entire season as a member of the Steelers' practice squad, so he got to go through his rookie NFL season while at home.

"My parents, I'm sure, enjoy it, and it's been good this first year living at home, being able to save some money and being comfortable with everything around here," Shipley said.

Allan and Pat Shipley welcomed the chance to have their son home.

"In college, they never really have a chance to get home, so it'd been about five years since we had him here, so it was incredible," Shipley's mother said. "He has such a great personality. The thing about him is that things are never boring; he always makes it fun.

"We're certainly going to miss him, but it's only about a five-hour trip, so that's something we can definitely be thankful for. So many of these guys go far away from their homes."

On the field, even for the Rimington Trophy winner as the country's top college center, Shipley admitted that the jump to the professional level hasn't been easy.

"Technique-wise, it's a different scheme, so that was different at first, but once you start getting reps at it you obviously start becoming accustomed to it, and the more and more reps throughout the season, I got more and more comfortable each week," he said.

Part of the adjustment for Shipley this season was in taking on a new position. In high school, he was equally dominant on offense and defense and spent his first two seasons at Penn State going back and forth between the offensive and defensive lines, showing flashes of brilliance at both.

Shipley found a permanent home at center after winning the starting job the spring before his redshirt sophomore season in 2006. By his senior season, he was named an All-American and the Big Ten's offensive lineman of the year.

But Shipley said he practiced primarily at guard his first professional season. It's likely the Eagles will move him back to center.

Shipley was a captain at Moon in his final two seasons, when the Tigers advanced to the WPIAL Class AAA semifinals.

But the program has fallen on hard times since, with Moon going 1-27 the past three seasons.

"It seems to have been falling apart, I don't know," Shipley said. "The coach that's there now [Jon Miller], I met him a couple times, and he's a pretty good guy, a pretty good coach. Hopefully they'll start to get things turned around."

Shipley said he enjoyed his time playing for his hometown team, that there were no hard feelings upon leaving for Philadelphia and that he learned a lot during his first season as a pro.

He said it was "pretty special" to get to put on a Steelers' practice uniform everyday and go against players he grew up watching. Many of the team's starters on defense were with the Steelers when Shipley was still in high school, including the defensive linemen opposite him in practice (Casey Hampton, Aaron Smith, Brett Keisel).

"Going against that defense, going against Casey Hampton -- a Pro Bowler -- every day, you're going to get better," Shipley said.

"I just kept telling myself: Timing and circumstance. Just keep working hard and good things will happen."

Even if they don't happen to occur with his hometown team.

First Published January 21, 2010 5:00 AM


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