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San Diego Player of the Week : Connecting When It Counts

December 16, 1987|CHRIS DE LUCA

SAN DIEGO — The rain pelted him in the face, the crowd's cheers echoed in his ears, and the icy wind whipped through his body, but T.J. Linardi blocked it all out.

His attention was centered on a muddy kicking tee on the 28-yard line.

Then, with 1:43 remaining in his only season of high school football, Linardi, a senior, kicked a 38-yard field goal to give Point Loma a 16-14 victory over Morse in the San Diego Section 3-A championship game Saturday night.

Linardi, The Times' Player of the Week, never saw the ball clear the crossbar. There was no way he was going to look this time. Earlier in the fourth quarter, he had failed on a 43-yard attempt when he committed a kicker's sin--he looked up. What he saw was the ball sailing outside the right post.

"I knew right away that it wasn't going through," he said. "I got the bottom part of the ball, which is not where you want to kick it, and I could feel that. But I just wanted to see where it would go off, so I looked up."

On the last kick, there was no need to look. Not only did Linardi have the "right feeling," but before he could do anything, holder Erwin Molina picked him up and spun him around several times.

"There was a lot of pressure, but I felt confident I would kick it through," he said. "I had to make it. . . . I was really lucky to get a second chance."

The thought of second chances is part of the therapy Linardi has learned to use after he misses field goals.

Ken Granger, a former football coach at St. Charles Junior High School in San Diego, volunteered this season to work with Linardi. He stressed that Linardi not be devastated after a miss.

"You learn to block everything out," Linardi said. "And if you miss one, you have to assume that you will get another chance. Then you get ready to hit that one. It may be the one that wins the game."

The second game of the Pointers' undefeated season was decided by a Linardi kick in the final six seconds. He kicked a 47-yarder, his longest, to give Point Loma a 24-21 victory over Lincoln. Linardi earlier had missed his first attempt, a 43-yarder in the first half.

Linardi concedes that he is surprised by his success. He made The Times' All-County first team in his first season of organized football.

Last year, Bennie Edens, Point Loma's football coach, approached Linardi about playing. Linardi was a star on the school's soccer team and had no interest in the offer.

But in the spring semester, Linardi enrolled in a weight-lifting class that was taught by Edens and filled with football players. It wasn't long before Linardi changed his mind.

"The players intimidated me a little bit by saying I couldn't make it as a football player," said Linardi, who this week began his third year as a starter on the soccer team. "Naturally, you want to prove them wrong, so I decided to go out for the team.

"Now, of course, they're all my great friends."

T.J. Linardi

Point Loma High School

Position: Kicker

Height, Weight, Class: 5-7, 152, Sr.

Last Week: Kicked a 38-yard field goal with 1:43 left to give Point Loma a 16-14 victory over Morse in the San Diego Section 3-A championship game Saturday night.

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