West Xtra: Freedom's Linta honored by call from 'Hall'

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It's become commonplace for Joe Linta to receive a phone call from an NFL general manager or star player such as Baltimore Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco.

Linta, who comes across as being calm and unflappable, is likely always on an even keel when he says "Hello," but that coolness quickly turned into astonishment one day this past January, seconds after fielding a call from a man who, like Linta, grew up in Beaver County.

"I was like, 'Really? You're kidding, right?" Linta recalled responding to what he had just been told.

The man on the other end was Larry Zigerell, the president of the Beaver County Sports Hall of Fame. Zigerell was informing Linta that the Hall of Fame wanted to make Linta one of the inductees of its 2014 class.

For Linta, it was quite the honor.

Linta was one of 10 men and women honored April 27 at the Hall of Fame's 39th annual banquet at The Fez in Hopewell.

"It was unbelievable to be put in a group that has people like Joe Namath, Tony Dorsett and Terry Francona," Linta said. "It's such a select group of athletes and sports people. To be recognized as to have gotten to the top of your field, it's incredibly humbling and exciting."

Janet Zigerell, Larry's wife and Hall of Fame secretary, said 525 people attended the event.

"The banquet is all built around the inductees," Zigerell said.

Linta, 54, made a career of football after graduating as valedictorian from Freedom Area High School in 1978. He played collegiately at Yale, coached on the college level, and is now a high school coach in Connecticut. But it's the business side of the sport where Linta has made the biggest name for himself.

Linta is a well-known NFL agent. He owns an agency that represents 55 clients. In 2013, Linta negotiated Flacco's contract with the Ravens. The outcome was Flacco becoming the highest-paid player in league history.

"We have built a reputation as a blue-collar group that does things the right way," Linta said. "We hit a home run with Joe's deal. That's obviously a pinnacle of a career. But I just did my job."

Over the next few days, most of Linta's attention will be on the NFL draft. He expects a few of his clients to be drafted and several others to sign free agent contracts. Among the most notable are LSU quarterback Zach Mettenberger and Auburn cornerback Chris Davis. It was Davis who returned a missed field goal for a touchdown to give Auburn an improbable win against Alabama last fall.

"You have to be right at the phone all the time," Linta said. "You just sit there and have two or three phones glued to your ear."

Linta's client list also includes ex-Steeler Willie Colon, Seton-LaSalle graduate Gino Gradkowski and Seneca Valley graduate Don Barclay.

The induction into the Beaver County Sports Hall of Fame was an unforgettable experience for Linta, who said he enjoyed spending time with some of his longtime friends. Linta's family came in for the banquet, as did a few surprise guests. A group of 10 people that included the headmaster and athletic director from the high school where Linta coaches -- Hamden Hall -- chartered a plane to Pittsburgh to be there for the ceremony.

"My knees almost buckled when I saw them. It was so special," said Linta, who also played basketball and ran track at Freedom.

The memorable night also featured the inductions of Tyrone Dixon, Nancy Krut Gailey, Alvin Gibson, Chris LaSala, James Lavrusky, Sherman McBride, Frank Radella, Stan Sligh and Tom Yankello.

The list of past inductees reads like a who's-who of Beaver County sports icons, from "Pistol" Pete Maravich and Mike Ditka to John Miller and Don Yannessa.

Reminiscing on old times can often make one feel old, but Linta joked that a "late night" excursion with a few friends the night before the banquet did the trick for him.

"It was about 10:30 and a few of us went over to the Hot Dog Shoppe," Linta said, laughing. "We put down about a dozen hot dogs. That was our night. That's how you know you're getting old."

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