Even before he joined the University of Texas football team two decades ago, Shane Dronett already owned a larger-than-life reputation built on wrestling alligators and staring down water moccasins in the bayous near his hometown.
On Wednesday, Dronett, who had struggled with a benign brain tumor more than a year ago, was found dead at his home in suburban Atlanta. The former Longhorn All-America defensive end was 38.
News of Dronett's death had reached some of his former UT teammates by late Wednesday morning. Dronett, who played in the NFL for the Denver Broncos and the Atlanta Falcons, had last seen some of his college teammates the weekend of the Texas-Oklahoma game in October.
It seemed appropriate that the last Longhorn game Dronett saw in person was the 45-35 victory over the Sooners in Dallas. When he played for Texas from 1989-91, Texas was 3-0 against its archrival, with Dronett starring in the final two contests with a combined 23 tackles.
Dronett very nearly didn't make it to Texas because of a lack of a scholarship. It seems that the heavily recruited Dronett had unofficially committed to five schools ? Texas, Oklahoma, Nebraska, Miami and Louisiana State.
He placed a call around midnight, the night before national signing day in 1989, to tell the Longhorn coaches he really wanted to sign with Texas. McWilliams said he had been saving the final scholarship for a running back who eventually signed with Texas A&M.
McWilliams dispensed defensive coordinator Leon Fuller to Bridge City. And Gooch made Dronett sign a napkin, an "unofficial" letter of intent to secure Dronett's late-night promise.
Dronett left for the NFL with a year of eligibility remaining. He was a second-round pick of Denver in 1992. He signed with Atlanta in 1997 and played with the Falcons until 2002.
After dabbling in the art business following his retirement from the NFL, Dronett settled on selling real estate.
About a year ago, he had surgery to remove a benign brain tumor. Former teammates noticed he wasn't quite the same. He was quieter, they said, and didn't tease them as much.
Still, he participated in the annual UT lettermen's golf tournament last spring, and he traveled to El Paso for the Longhorns game against UTEP in September.
Dronett is survived by his wife, Kris, his college sweetheart and two daughters.