As police tried to piece together the events surrounding a 21/2-hour hostage drama Wednesday, one thing was clear: Jason McEnaney, a history major from Hicksville, N.Y., played the dominant role in bringing the standoff to a conclusion.

It was McEnaney, a 19-year-old sophomore at State University at Albany, who inched up to within striking distance of a gunman who was holding 35 students hostage in a history class on campus.It was McEnaney who first lunged at the gunman, identified by police as Ralph J. Tortorici, 26, a senior. And it was McEnaney who grabbed the barrel of Tortorici's rifle and pushed it to the ground, even as at least one shot went off, wounding McEnaney in the groin, abdomen and thigh.

Five other students quickly descended on Tortorici, subduing him as he drew a knife from his waistband.

"Jason's a very brave, remark

able individual," said Patrick Swy-gert, the university's president, who praised McEnaney's split-second timing.

"I talked to Jason in the emergency room. I asked him the question, `Why did you do it?' He simply said, `It had to be done.' He told me he doesn't consider himself a hero," Swygert added.

Few shared McEnaney's opinion.

"Of course he's a hero," Swygert said.

After more than two hours of surgery, McEnaney was listed in serious condition Wednesday night at Albany Medical Center. His life was not believed to be in danger.

Meanwhile, several dozen friends - many of them his fraternity brothers - milled about the first floor of the hospital, going over the day's events and talking about McEnaney.

"He's a leader, man," said one friend. "He's a take-charge guy. He commands everyone's respect."

McEnaney, who stands about 6 feet 2 inches, is an honors student who has talked of a career in journalism or teaching. Friends said that he serves as rush chairman in his fraternity, Sigma Chi, and works part-time as an assistant in the university personnel office.

Before coming to Albany, McEnaney attended Bethpage High School, where he was a star pitcher on the varsity baseball team.

"He's just a good kid," said Jason Panella, a fellow sophomore.

At McEnaney's side by early evening were his father, Edward, and mother, Alice; a brother, Steven, 18, and his grandparents, who live in the Albany area. He also has a sister, Kirsten, 12.

McEnaney's parents declined to speak to reporters. But at the family's two-story, wood-shingled home on Long Island - where a plastic Santa Claus and snowman decorate the chimney - McEnaney's aunt, Ginny Ogno, described a phone call that she received Wednesday afternoon from her nephew before his surgery.

"He told me he was the one who jumped the guy," said Ogno. "That's the way he is. He doesn't like people to get hurt."