Land of 10 has embarked on a series of Next Generation stories as Iowa writers Scott Dochterman and Bobby La Gesse travel the country to meet the incoming class of freshmen. Here’s a look at 3-star defensive tackle Noah Shannon.
OSWEGO, Ill. — Upon the snap, two hulking offensive linemen fire off right at Noah Shannon.
To keep their 600 combined pounds from sending him into the turf, Shannon shoots his hands onto the chest of one lineman, trying to flip his body into a gap between them.
Shannon’s eyes track the running back as he jockeys for position. Shannon decides to spin and meet the running back in a hole.
Instead, the offensive linemen seal him off, and the running back cuts back to where Shannon initially was, scampering for a first down.
“I’m not sure what his mindset was,” Oswego High School football coach Brian Cooney said. “He knows he should take on the double team and not spin out of it. Something wasn’t right.”
Shannon, a 6-foot-1, 300-pound 3-star Iowa defensive tackle signee, wasn’t himself to start his senior season. The selfless, team-oriented player disappeared, replaced with a brooding, quieter-than-usual version of Shannon. Internal pressure to live up to his Big Ten scholarship overwhelmed him.
He needed help. He needed to rediscover what earned him the scholarship offer in the first place.
“I wasn’t in the best spot,” Shannon said.
Early love of football
This wasn’t the Shannon who loved watching football so much he demanded he play it as a 6-year-old.
His father, Johann Shannon, was hesitant, explaining Noah would play with children a year or two older. They were bigger and stronger. Facing them wasn’t going to be easy.
Noah didn’t care. Back and forth they went until Noah fell to the floor crying because he so much wanted to play.
Johann made Noah promise one thing. If he signed up Noah, his son needed to finish the season.
“He held his own,” Johann said. “He started on the line. He was good.”
Sports came naturally to Noah. He excelled at basketball and baseball. He always was big. His mom, Sarah Real, carried his birth certificate to every game.
“We were always asked about it,” she said.
He was athletic, too, playing linebacker in sixth grade. His athleticism never left, even as he grew into a 300-pound defensive lineman.
Noah routinely beats defensive backs in 1-on-1 receiving matchups during practice breaks. It is as common to see him make a one-handed catch, spin the football on its laces and throw it back as it is for him to make a play in the backfield.
“Those are the things that receivers, running backs and quarterbacks can do,” Cooney said. “Defensive linemen usually have it bouncing off their facemask.”
Standing out on interior line
The freshman coaches told Cooney about Noah the first day of freshman workouts. His quickness and physicality stood out. Cooney didn’t need long to realize Noah was heading to the sophomore team.
The promotion meant a lot to Noah, even though he tried to keep his composure.
“You could just hear it in his voice,” Real said. “He was excited, but he didn’t want to let on.”
Noah is quiet. He opens up around family and close friends, but he keeps his feelings to himself. They can tell he is happy because he moves with a bounce in his step and opens up more.
Noah had plenty to celebrate his freshman year. Just as when he was 6, he held his own against older competition.
He was called up for the playoffs, and it was then, when facing what Cooney calls possibly the best offensive line in program history, he realized Noah was going to be special.
Noah didn’t just hold his own against future Division I players. He looked forward to the 1-on-1 drills.
“He had the ability to face them and the mindset to tackle it, too,” Cooney said. “I understand you are a senior and rule the school, but I’m a freshman and ready to go. It was pretty impressive.”
It was just the start. Noah earned all-conference honors as a sophomore. He received all-state honors as a junior.
Noah’s impact was illustrated best in a crosstown rivalry game in 2016. The Panthers were underdogs to Oswego East and its high-octane offense, led by future Iowa running back Ivory Kelly-Martin.
Oswego won all 11 previous meetings, and Noah ensured it became 12 by living in the backfield and keeping Kelly-Martin in check. Kelly-Martin rushed for 100 yards but had only 2 carries of 10 yards or more. Oswego won 21-3.
“Nobody believed in us,” Noah said. “It kind of lit a fire under us and for me to play the way I know how to play. Be disruptive, get in the offensive lineman’s face and cause havoc in the backfield because they can’t run if you are pushing your guy 5 yards in the backfield.
“That is just the mentality I had. Then all the other pieces fell together.”
Not being himself
Noah committed to Iowa in July 2017. He was heading to the Big Ten. He knew he was likely the best player on the field each Friday night.
Noah felt a need to prove it entering his senior season.
“I was stressing myself out,” Noah said.
This was an internal issue. He’s a hard critic on himself. Noah sometimes wondered why opposing coaches congratulated him when he didn’t play his best.
But never before did his desire to perform to his potential manifest itself into believing he needed to go out of his way to make a play regardless of his assignment.
“It was just there one day,” Shannon said. “I couldn’t get those thoughts out of my head.”
It was odd because he doesn’t care what strangers think. Noah generates headlines with his big plays, but he doesn’t seek the spotlight.
When Oswego needed a key defensive stop against Plainfield East last season, Noah essentially volunteered as a decoy. He told coaches that every time he lined up at defensive end the guard and tackle headed his way. It created a perfect blitzing lane.
‘The quarterback was running for his life,” Cooney said. “Not because Noah was chasing him, but because the linebacker we sent through the A gap [that] was screaming ‘lane!”
Yet, somehow, Noah convinced himself he needed to take down every ball carrier. It is why he spun out of double teams. It is why he tried doing more than his assignment. The kid who enjoyed football because it let him hit people wasn’t finding much joy in the physicality of the defensive line.
Everyone knew something was wrong. His mom realized Noah was withdrawing, rarely smiling. His dad put together that Noah was pressing but didn’t say anything. Noah needed to figure it out.
The team couldn’t wait that long. A few days after an early-September loss to Plainfield North, Oswego linebackers coach John Hugunin and Cooney pulled Noah aside at practice.
Hugunin, an Oswego graduate, told Noah of his years in high school. Hugunin needed to make every tackle because if he didn’t the Panthers were giving up a touchdown.
They reminded Noah his team was different. The defense was better. He didn’t have to do everything. If he did his job the plays would come.
“We aren’t the flashiest outfit,” Cooney said. “We are kind of put your hand in the ground and play football. We’ll sprinkle in some creativity stuff. Once he started going back to that base foundation he took off.”
Finding his mojo
The results were almost instantaneous. The self-inflicted pressure vanished, and Noah went back to being the double-team taking, big-play making, havoc-causing defensive lineman from the previous two seasons.
“It was really a relief on me,” Noah said, “that I didn’t have to think like that anymore.”
He led Oswego to a conference title, an 11-2 record and a trip to the second round of the playoffs. Noah again earned all-state honors after making 46 tackles, 15 tackles for loss and 8 sacks.
It wasn’t the first time his coaches and family saw Noah out of sorts. He was the same way when deciding between Minnesota and Iowa. He initially committed to the Gophers last May, but quickly thought he made the decision too soon. Minnesota’s no-visit policy for commits led him to de-commit before visiting Iowa in June.
“It was a stressful home environment, for sure,” Real said. “He is quiet. He doesn’t always share his feelings. Those two weeks were uncomfortable. You could tell his heart wasn’t in it.”
Noah’s head eventually came to the same conclusion. He valued Iowa offering him first and showing a belief in him before other programs.
Plus, the team’s culture reminded him of high school.
“I feel like it’s a bigger Oswego, in a way,” Noah said. “Just the way they run things over there, especially the football aspect of it. They aren’t all flashy and razzle-dazzle. It’s football. You get the job done.”
Noah tweeted his Iowa commitment on the Fourth of July. His second commitment within two months was a problem for some on social media.
He tried stepping away from Twitter until his phone pinged the next day. It said Mike Daniels tweeted at him. Noah didn’t think it was that Daniels until he saw the blue Twitter verified check mark and read his bio.
The former Iowa star and Green Bay Packers defensive tackle passed on a one-sentence message:
“Don’t respond to the trolls lil bro.”
“It was really cool,” Noah said. “It was just what I needed to hear.”