Christopher “Casey” Shannon’s career as a Duke athlete was meant to end six months ago. Yet Shannon, a firm believer that he would end his career as a Duke athlete on his own terms, gave up his primary sport, football, to play with the Duke lacrosse team—a sport in which he had virtually no experience.
A native of Andover, Ma., Shannon began playing Pop Warner football, a national youth football program, at the age of 10. Now standing at 6-foot-5 and 285 lbs., Shannon found his home on the offensive line at a young age because of his size. After a couple of years on the gridiron, Shannon searched for a way to spend his time after football and basketball seasons ended, experimenting with lacrosse when he was in sixth grade. He played goalie each spring for four years before making the choice to cut ties with all sports other than football, transferring to Phillips Academy Andover in hopes of earning a scholarship. After three years there, he received offers from Maryland, Duke and Connecticut.
After redshirting his freshman season, Shannon appeared in all 12 games for Duke football in 2008, serving as the team’s long snapper. But he did not see any action during the 2009 season.
Failing to crack the rotation on the offensive line during those first three years, Shannon reconsidered the path he had taken in college athletics. He had many friends on the lacrosse team, and watched as the program won its first ever national championship.
“In the spring of 2010 when the team won the national championship, I was following them pretty closely,” Shannon said. “I didn’t know if I was going to use my fifth year for football or something else.”
After long and careful consideration, Shannon gave lacrosse another chance. But first he had to make the team.
“I bumped into coach Danowski that spring... over at White Lecture Hall when he sat in front of me at Catholic mass,” Shannon said. “After mass I jogged out to him and told him I was interested in trying out.”
Danowski was receptive and told Shannon he could try out in the fall. The rest of that year, Shannon said he made frequent trips to the wall of the visiting locker room by Wallace Wade Stadium to knock off the rust.
“I’d sneak in there and throw the ball off the wall to get a stick in my hand and to get my coordination back,” Shannon said.
Following his return to the football team for his senior season, Shannon’s time had come. The Monday before the final football game of the season against North Carolina, Shannon met Danowski and assistant coach Ron Caputo on the practice field. Caputo put Shannon through about 30 minutes of shooting drills and various other conditioning tests.
“I guess they thought they could work with what they saw,” Shannon said. “That week we played [North] Carolina and the week after that I was playing Duke lacrosse.”
Shannon’s skills in goal were not polished, but he had the size and athleticism to become the team’s newest project as the third goaltender. Danowski noted Shannon’s physical strengths and added his drive and willingness to learn set him apart.
“I think in football you gain a tremendous amount of confidence,” Danowski said. “You also understand the work ethic that’s involved every day. You learn about hard work, you learn about commitment, you learn about working through adversity.”
Making the team was just the first obstacle, with the next one a competition for playing time. Learning from younger yet more experienced goalies Dan Wigrizer and Mike Rock, Shannon said he progressed quickly under their guidance.
He first had to adjust to the speed of the game with the average Division I lacrosse ball traveling somewhere between 70 and 95 miles per hour, Danowski said. Normally goalies begin facing these shots from a young age and are able to adjust to the speed as they become older and more skilled. Wigrizer, who first stepped into the cage when he was nine years old, said he was in awe of Shannon’s transition back to lacrosse.
“It’s tremendously difficult to do what he did,” Wigrizer said. “Just to step in at this level, I was shocked. It’s a big transition to move from middle school to Division I.”
After Shannon caught up to speed, he only needed to refine his coordination and footwork in order to play. After months of preparation, the coaching staff deemed Shannon ready for game action. He played in the team’s first game of the season—a blowout win over Siena—where he notched his first career save. Shannon saw action in three more contests during the 2011 season, playing a total of 49:37. He made seven saves and allowed six goals, with a team-low 7.26 goals against average.
As his lacrosse season drew to a close, Shannon graduated with a degree in sociology. Just two weeks after his graduation, he traveled with the Blue Devils to Baltimore, where they fell in the national semifinals to Maryland. Shannon made the decision to return to Duke and play out his fifth year of eligibility, but chose to do so playing lacrosse, not football.
“It was up to me. I had gotten to the point where I had made the transition away from football,” Shannon said. “I’d spent my time playing football and I’d moved on. It was a tough four years but I definitely learned a lot about myself.”
Shannon enrolled that Fall in the Master of Management Studies program at The Fuqua School of Business. He practiced with the lacrosse team all summer, continuing to hone his skills for the following season. Unfortunately for Shannon, he was bumped to fourth on the depth chart when freshman Kyle Turri joined the team.
Shannon has only appeared in one game during the 2012 campaign, getting his chance with 5:51 remaining in Duke’s blowout victory over Dartmouth. Holding a double-digit lead in the fourth quarter, Danowski called on Shannon to relieve Turri, who had just allowed three goals in nine minutes of action. Shannon, in what may have been the final performance of his Duke lacrosse career, made three saves on five shots, allowing no goals.
Five years after joining the football team, Shannon said he has no doubt in his mind that he made the most out of his Duke experience. He is a letterwinner in two sports and the proud owner of two degrees.
Danowski said he was privileged to have coached Shannon, who has just completed a journey that Danowski considers “just about impossible.”
“It’s a great story because it takes a tremendous amount of courage to do what he did and it takes a really special individual that is willing to accept that challenge,” Danowski said. “You want to surround yourself with people who want to get the most out of their time here. I think Casey will never regret a day on this campus.... The lessons he learned on the football and the lacrosse field will last him the rest of his life.”