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This West Catholic sprinter has some football business in Hershey

Labor Day weekend till 7 days before Christmas. Yes, the journey for any team trying to win a state football championship in Pennsylvania is certainly a marathon.

Labor Day weekend till 7 days before Christmas. Yes, the journey for any team trying to win a state football championship in Pennsylvania is certainly a marathon.

But during the final week, the race turns into a sprint, and Rodney Linder, all 275 pounds of him (on a 6-foot frame), is more than ready.

At that weight? Are we kidding? Not in the least.

Linder, the only senior grunt and a 2-year starter, is the left-side tackle for West Catholic High, which Saturday at noon, at Hersheypark Stadium, will meet South Fayette, of suburban Pittsburgh, for the Class AA title.

Come spring, he'll get back to competing in track, primarily as a shot putter, but also as a - brace yourself - sprinter!

"You go to those meets, and they last about 3 hours and your part can be only 20 minutes," Linder said. "It's too boring just sitting around. So, rather than do that, I decided to run the 100 and 200."

What's his best 100 time?

"Depends who you ask," he said, chuckling. "I guess it's 13.4."

He added: "I was kind of worried about finishing last the first time I ran. But I actually beat one other guy, so that made me feel good. I can't say I've fallen in love with running, but I do like it. You have to run at practice anyway to stay in shape, so I figured I might as well do it [officially]. My teammates call me 'Big Rodney - The Big Guy With the Good Feet.' "

"I really give props to coach Linc [Lincoln Townsend Jr., also a football assistant]. The work he has done with me in track has made me a much better football player. I would not be where I am without him."

Those who follow West Catholic's grid fortunes know about star rusher Brandon Hollomon and even his shared-time, tailbacking partners, David Williams and Joshua Mathis. And how Jaelen Strong-Rankin, Quran Kent and Jim Lynch form a marvelous receiving corps in concert with quarterback Anthony Reid.

You think they do this by accident? Linder knows better.

"All these stories about the backs and receivers. I was hoping a lineman was gonna get something," he cracked.

By the way, his partners are center Dom DiGalbo, guards T-J Waters and Mike Makor and tackle Eric Wyant.

Linder, also a tackle in 2009, was stationed at guard in West's 2010 opener, a 23-14 loss to Roman Catholic, but coach Brian Fluck was unhappy with the line's overall performance, and Linder's return to tackle wound up being one of the changes.

"I was willing to play anywhere to help the team," he said. "But I do like tackle better. I feel more comfortable being out there in space, a little."

Also, by now, he's quite the nurture-'em pro.

"I'm pretty talkative away from football, but on the field I never said too much," he noted. "But as a 2-year starter and the only senior, I know I have to show leadership. Now, I like being vocal. I embrace it.

"I like being able to help the guys when they ask me how they're supposed to block on this play or that play. I got the same kind of help from last year's seniors, and now I fill that same role."

Linder is in only his fourth year of football. Like many grunts, he was too large as a youth to play pound ball, but he did participate in basketball while attending Young Scholars Charter School.

As fate would have it, he played well in a game when Frank "Pops" McNally, a West assistant, happened to be in attendance, and the two got to talking.

McNally said he liked Linder's physical nature, and wondered whether he'd like to translate it to football.

"I always did want to play football," he said. "It was great to get that chance. I always wanted to be in a nice, safe school, so it made sense to come to West. I've had so much fun being part of this football program. My teammates. My coaches. Everyone is great to be around.

"It really helps when you're part of a program that always has a chance to win a state championship."

Linder was strictly a JV player in '08, when the Burrs advanced to the final - it was the Catholic League's first year of PIAA participation - but fell in hearts-ripped-out-and-stomped-on fashion, 35-34, in double overtime, to Wilmington. The '09 season ended in the semifinal round with a 23-21 loss to Lancaster Catholic.

"We know what we have to do," Linder said, simply.

In the classroom, Linder, who lives near Broad and Girard, steadily earns A's and B's. Because he loves math and science, he envisions a career in engineering or computer technology, and schools such as Delaware Valley, King's and Stevenson (in Maryland; just completed its first football season) are showing interest.

If the Burrs triumph Saturday . . . hey, here's an idea: Linder's teammates could ask him to celebrate by sprinting the length of the field.

Though, in equipment, he might have to be timed with a sundial. *