The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

Sports

October 5, 2012

Conley flexing his muscles for Red Flash

LORETTO — Dan Conley carved out quite the athletic career during his days at Burgettstown High School in Washington County.

As a senior, Conley won conference MVP honors in football before capping things with a PIAA Class AA wrestling championship. For his accomplishments, Conley, who is affectionately called “The Danimal” by those who know him best, remains a revered figure in his hometown.

He’s also one of the more well-respected players on the St. Francis football team. Conley is so liked by teammates, one went as far as having a T-shirt made commemorating Conley’s grand high school athletic achievement.

When Conley pinned Dan Winnie of Danville in the 215-pound final in 2008, he jumped up and triumphantly performed a double-armed flex that would make Hulk Hogan proud. Newspaper photographers captured the pose, and Red Flash teammate and linebacker Ryan Revtai immortalized it on a T-shirt he frequently wears around campus.

“There’s that picture of me on the front, and he even had me sign it,” Conley said following practice Friday afternoon as St. Francis (2-3) prepares for a NEC home game against rival Robert Morris (1-3). Kickoff is scheduled for noon.

“I signed it for him one day in the cafeteria. Every time he wears it, I usually run into four or five people who flex for me.”

Even St. Francis head coach Chris Villarrial knows about Conley’s wrestling prowess.

“Oh yeah, he’s the all-star gold medalist from Burgettstown,” Villarrial said.

Conley’s high school success – he opted to play football for St. Francis after receiving interest by several Division I and II wrestling programs, including Pitt-Johnstown – has translated to the next level, where he’s been a key member of the Red Flash football team since his freshman season as a starting fullback.

For the 6-foot-1, 234-pound Conley, it’s been a long journey.

A fifth-year senior, Conley suffered a devastating hip injury during his freshman season.

“We were playing at Morehead (State) in Kentucky and I caught a pass and was tackled kind of weird,” Conley said. “My hip dislocated. I was done the rest of the season. It was really painful.”

And potentially a career-ending injury, but Conley managed to be back in time for spring practice.

“When he blew out his hip, they said he’d never play again,” Villarrial said. “He didn’t miss a beat. In fact, he came up to me, and it was my first year at that point, and told me he would be here for every game. I can’t say enough words about that guy. Words can’t explain him. You want your sons growing up like Dan Conley. He’s the first one in and the last one to leave the weight room, yet he still has over a 3.5 GPA. You want a bunch of Dan Conleys on your football team.”

Conley’s work ethic always earned high praise, even during his high school days, when his physical strength helped him overwhelm the competition.

He certainly left an impression during last week’s game at Duquesne, which St. Francis lost, 24-21, after holding an 11-point fourth-quarter lead.

Conley leveled Duquesne linebacker Dorian Bell, who was originally an Ohio State recruit, on a block and knocked Bell from the game.

“It was one of those moments where we were on the sidelines like, ‘Oh my gosh, he just did that,’ ” Villarial said. “He’s one of those guys that gets a lot more recognition if he plays on a winning team.”

Which is exactly what St. Francis hopes to become, and with Conley’s help blocking and carrying the football in a rushing offense that averages 262.2 yards per game. If the Red Flash can do that against the Colonials, there’s a good chance they’ll even their record.

“I’m so happy to get a chance to play football with these guys and start a winning tradition,” Conley said. “It’s kind of like what we were able to do at Burgettstown. It’s a great feeling, and it’s something we’ve been building for the last four years. We’re out to establish ourselves as a program.”

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