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Oakland Raider Defensive End Matt Shaughnessy runs drills during the first day of their three day mini-camp at the team's headquarters in Alameda, Calif. on May 8, 2009. (Sean Donnelly/Staff)

The phone call came a little more than a year ago. Matt Shaughnessy's father was on the line, and Shaughnessy sensed something wasn't quite right.

He was right. Kevin Shaughnessy was calling to relay the news that Matt's older brother had died unexpectedly.

His brother's death was just the latest in a string of setbacks. Yet, through it all, Shaughnessy hasn't let personal tragedy and two severe injuries keep him from making it in the NFL. A rookie defensive end, Shaughnessy has become an integral part of the Raiders line rotation.

Shaughnessy's stock tumbled a bit when he suffered a broken leg in a spring practice before his senior season at Wisconsin, and the death of 25-yard-old Jamie Shaughnessy — he died 11 months or so after doctors discovered blood clots in his stomach — placed even more pressure upon him. He lasted until the third round in April's draft after having been projected to go in the first or second round.

"It was tough," Shaughnessy said of his brother's death, "but it came at a really busy time so I didn't have a lot of time to think about it. A lot of my time was taken up with football because it happened right at the beginning of the season. Everything else just kicked in, the draft, practice and all that stuff, so I didn't really have a lot of down time."


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Shaughnessy also isn't one for self-pity, according to Steve Robichaud, his high school coach at Norwich (Conn.) Free Academy. Robichaud said Shaughnessy is a strong person inside who finds a way to overcome adversity, and he's had more than his share in recent years. Shaughnessy tore an anterior cruciate ligament in his knee near the end of his freshman season at Wisconsin, and his paternal grandfather died at the start of Shaughnessy's high school career.

"Matt's a tough kid who has been through a lot," Raiders defensive end Jay Richardson said. "I'm sure it affects him a great deal, but he doesn't let it show in his emotions or in his play. That's no small feat."

Neither is the play of Shaughnessy, a backup who plays in certain situations and when one of the starters needs a break.

He has gained a reputation as a high-effort player who refuses to give up on any play. That manifested itself in his chasing down San Diego Chargers running back LaDainian Tomlinson from behind three times and sacking quarterback Philip Rivers on Nov."‰1.

"For a young guy, he continues to get better and better in his production," Raiders coach Tom Cable said. "He has been very good."

Shaughnessy figures to get even more playing time as long as starting left end Greg Ellis is out while recovering from arthroscopic knee and shoulder surgery. Shaughnessy may get the start this week with Ellis' injury situation.

Defensive tackle Tommy Kelly said Shaughnessy's rapid ascension is attributable to a strong work ethic and the desire to learn from the veterans.

"He played behind Rich (Seymour) and Greg, so he watched and learned," Kelly said. "He's real attentive, a good, young student of the game. Plus, he works hard. As long as he works hard, it's going to pay off in the end. He put in the work in practice, and he's getting it back in the games."

The presence of ends Seymour and Ellis can't be overestimated in Shaughnessy's development, Cable said.

"Consider this, if you were Matt Shaughnessy, you're getting the greatest education as a rookie player you could ever ask for, by two guys, not just one, but by two, who do it the right way," Cable said. "From how they eat and how they sleep, how they study, how they practice. If you're taking notes, man, you're getting the education of a lifetime."