When it comes to solving problems, A.Q. Shipley can be creative. Take, for instance, his parking predicament.
The Penn State all-American center had accumulated too many tickets, and his campus parking permit was revoked. However, according to teammate, roommate, best mate and offensive-linemate Rich Ohrnberger, Shipley discovered a way to park his car near their Nittany Apartments residence.
One day, the 6-foot-1, 300-pound senior walked into the apartment with a sandwich in hand and a mischievous grin. Ohrnberger, as much a jokester, took the bait.
What's the deal? What's so funny? Why are you so happy?
I think I've got the system beat, Rich.
What did you do?
I found a way they can't ticket or tow me. . . . Open the front door.
Ohrnberger opened the front door. Shipley's car was perched on the walk directly in front of the entrance. To get there, Shipley drove through the community of apartments.
There's no way I can get a ticket. My car's out front.
A.Q., I don't know if this is going to work.
No, I'll just do this half the day, and I'll park my car on campus the rest of the night.
Make what you will of Shipley's solution, but he didn't become one of the best at his position without being open to alternative thinking. When he arrived at Penn State in 2004, Shipley was a highly recruited defensive tackle from Moon High School, just outside Pittsburgh. But the Nittany Lions were loaded on defense and needed a center.
"I came here to play defense," Shipley recalled earlier this month. "I wasn't happy when I moved over to offense."
Enter coach Joe Paterno.
"He said, 'I think you could be a good defensive tackle, but I think you can play at the next level as a center,' " Shipley said.
With that nudge Shipley bought into the move, worked his tail off, and won the starting spot by the first game of his sophomore season. Thirty-eight consecutive starts later, he enters his final game at Penn State as perhaps the greatest center in team history.
On Thursday, when the Lions face Southern Cal in the Rose Bowl, Shipley will come armed with numerous postseason awards. He was awarded the Rimington Trophy as the nation's top center earlier this month and has been named to several all-American first teams.
Paterno's calculation looks solid, with Shipley projected to be selected somewhere in the middle to latter rounds of the NFL draft. Shipley's height hurts his stock. Of course, he could just as easily move back to defense and not miss a step. The team captain is one of those players, as clichéd as it sounds, with intangibles.
Need someone to mentor a first-year quarterback? Go to Shipley.
"He was the one that kept me level, kept me calm, when I seemed to be pressing," junior quarterback Daryll Clark said. "He always came to me after every mistake was made. 'Don't worry about it. We got your back. Let's go get them next time.' "
Need someone to lay down the law? Go to Shipley.
"A.Q. will get in your face if you're not doing something right, if you're joking around a little too much," Clark said. "He's one of the guys that knows when it's time to play and when it's time to get busy."
Need someone to lighten the mood? Well, go to Shipley.
"He is a goofball," said guard Stefen Wisniewski, Shipley's likely heir at center next season.
In October, Shipley and his partner in pranks, Ohrnberger, pulled off a now-infamous conference call. Shipley was scheduled to participate in a telephone interview with reporters but wasn't quite feeling up to it that day. Ohrnberger, who can do a mean impression, was nearby, and the roommates had often joked about his taking Shipley's place.
Hey, you want to be me today?
All right, give me the phone.
Fifteen minutes later . . .
"It was good," Shipley said. "He did a lot of 'you knows,' did a lot of Pittsburghese to the fullest extent."
Some reporters were fooled. Some were skeptical. The team quickly issued an e-mail apologizing for the hoax.
"I heard that it got back" to Paterno, Ohrnberger said. "I think it was Jay Paterno, and Joe goes, 'Was that Ohrnberger?' And Jay was like, 'Yeah, that was Ohrnberger.' 'Well, I guess that makes sense.' "
Jay Paterno, Paterno's son, is the team's quarterbacks coach.
There was no word if Shipley's parking maneuver worked its way back to the 82-year-old head coach. It didn't take long for campus security, however, to figure out his ploy. Twenty minutes after Shipley and Ohrnberger's conversation, there was a knock on the door.
Said Ohrnberger: "A.Q. opens it up and these guys are like, 'Hey, what are you doing? Get your car out of here now!' "