Serving up hits with a smile

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By Scott Akanewich

When Grady Flinn was asked by his third-grade football coach what position he wanted to play as he embarked on his gridiron career, he wasn’t exactly sure where on the depth chart he would best fit in – but he knew one thing he definitely wanted to be part of his pigskin job description.

“I told him I wanted to be the tackler,” said Flinn.

He did exactly that, he said.

“Back then, I played all over the place,” said Flinn, a senior running back who has gained 824 yards on 86 carries with 11 touchdowns this season. “Linebacker, safety, defensive end, cornerback – it didn’t matter – anything I could get.”

However, somewhere along the line, Flinn also developed a penchant for handing out hits while carrying the ball and by the time he reached high school, he was exclusively an offensive player, having started playing running back in fifth grade when he discovered he had a knack for a specific skill that made him a valuable ballcarrier despite other shortcomings in his game, he said.

“Funny thing is I was never fast or strong,” said Flinn. “But, I could always hit the hole really quick.”

Although he admits to not being the biggest or strongest over the years, he does claim to have something that has never let him down – a tenacious mindset that was bestowed on him by his father.

“I’ve always been very aggressive with a lot of tenacity,” he said. “My dad always told me it’s better to play mad.”

According to Flinn, that kind of approach has fit in seamlessly with the Purple-and-Gold football culture he has immersed himself in for the past four years.

“Here in Liberty Hill, we don’t focus on size,” said Flinn. “We focus on being tough – we wake up in the morning and hit each other.”

Panthers head coach Kent Walker said Flinn is the kind of player any coach would want on his team for a variety of reasons.

“Grady’s a team player and just an awesome young man,” said Walker. “He’s done a terrific job for us this year in splitting time at running back, does everything we ask of him and just goes about his business.”

In fact, Walker said with Flinn’s former football self still lurking beneath the surface, the possibility of defensive deployment isn’t completely out of the question.

“Grady’s very tough and to be truthful, if we didn’t need him on offense, we could use him on defense,” he said. “He likes contact and is what Liberty Hill football is all about.”

This season, Flinn has developed an effective partnership with sophomore Joe Pitchford, as the duo has shared time at the same position in the Panthers’ backfield – so effective in fact, Flinn said they’ve been dubbed with a nickname based on each one’s individual running style.

“(Liberty Hill offensive coordinator) Coach (John) Hall calls us the ‘hammer and the scalpel,’” said Flinn. “I’m definitely the scalpel.”

Despite the fact Flinn isn’t sure of what career path he will pursue following graduation, he lists biology and English as his favorite classroom subjects, with an emphasis on the former.

“I just find it all so interesting,” he said. “How the world was created with all the atoms holding everything together.”

Flinn is also an avid gamer, listing Spider-Man, Uncharted and Bloodborne as his favorites and said at times he channels some of what his characters play out in the virtual world to the real one.

“I think I take some of that violence onto the field with me,” he said.

Another passion Flinn has is an appreciation for the outdoors – something he said some may find contradictory to his gaming interests.

“I guess they look at gaming, which is indoors and it’s usually not someone who likes to go out in nature,” said Flinn. “But, I love things like rock climbing, diving into water from high places and just roaming through the woods. I just love to breath the fresh air.”

Flinn is big on family and has four siblings in sisters Julia, Mallory and Gracie and brother Matthew – who also played football for the Panthers – and has one goal for the future that would get him bragging rights over all of them, he said.

“I want to be the first one of us to graduate college,” said Flinn.

Many times an athlete will demonstrate a different persona in competition compared to the personality outside the arena and Flinn is no different despite his fiery facade on the field.

“I’m a really outgoing guy and don’t have anything to hide,” he said. “I love meeting and interacting with new people.”

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