Golden Tigers link gridiron success to world game

By Michael Boytim

In the final quarter of Hollidaysburg’s 31-0 victory over Wallenpaupack in the first round of the PIAA Class 5A playoffs Saturday, Hollidaysburg coach Homer DeLattre turned to Gus Dellinger to run out the clock.

Dellinger, usually a tight end, was needed with Hunter Barr nursing an injury and took advantage of his opportunity, eventually scoring the final touchdown of the game.

“It was nice. Unexpected, but cool to get a chance to do that,” Dellinger said. “I knew our line was getting great drive off the ball, so I just wanted to run the clock and win the game.”

Of course, Dellinger has plenty of experience carrying a ball, just not a football.

The 6-foot-1 senior is a star rugby player alongside some of his teammates in the spring.

Dellinger and fellow seniors Nate Fisher, Mason McCready and Sam Haines, who will be traveling to Milton Hershey High School today at 2 p.m. to play Archbishop Wood in the PIAA Class 5A high school football quarterfinals, credit playing rugby with some of their football success.

“Wrestling and rugby make a great football player,” DeLattre said. “There’s a lot of articles that relate rugby to body control, tackling and blocking in football. All that goes hand in hand. The balance and body control is evident in those players, and the players take great angles in pursuit.”

Fisher and Dellinger handled the bulk of the carries against Wallenpaupack.

“It definitely helps out in the conditioning aspect,” Fisher said. “In rugby, you run a lot more than you would in a football game. Also, in rugby, everyone carries the ball. So that helps with that skill.”

Entering the Wallenpaupack game, the seven players on Hollidaysburg’s football roster who also played rugby had accounted for 302 of the team’s 696 tackles or 43 percent of the total.

Dellinger has a team-high 114 tackles.

“It helps a lot with tackling,” Sam Haines said. “We get low and tackle at the thighs. I’ve noticed our team tackling is a lot better this year, and our middle linebacker (Dellinger) is probably our best rugby player.”

Haines father, Andy, is the rugby coach.

“About six or seven kids who have played and currently play football, all of them who are friends with Sam, came out,” said Andy Haines, the Blair United rugby coach. “We always sold it as a way to make yourself a better football player. Gus Dellinger has done really well, going to the All-American camp the last two years, and three of our guys made the All-State rugby team last year.”

Golden Tigers center Trevor Mitchell has played rugby in the past, and underclassmen Trent Paddock and Ian DiPangrazio are currently playing both football and rugby.

Sam Haines also got a chance to display some of his rugby skills in Hollidaysburg’s win over Wallenpaupack, coming out of a pile of players with a loose football in the second half.

“(Haines) does have a knack for knocking the ball loose and recovering fumbles,” DeLattre said. “He brings guys down with rugby-style tackling. He’s in scrums, and it helps him with leverage, stripping and recovering.”

Andy Haines began playing rugby when he was attending college at Cal., Pa. and many of his friends continue to play in a men’s club in State College.

“We looked at West Allegheny, which always has a strong football team,” Andy Haines said. “They probably have 30 football players play rugby. Their offensive coordinator is their rugby coach, and they promote it as spring football. We practice Tuesday and Thursday so the kids can still lift for football on Monday, Wednesday and Friday.”

Dellinger, Fisher, McCready and Haines all wrestle at Hollidaysburg, too.

“We’re all a bunch of knuckleheads together,” McCready said. “It’s always fun. These guys are the hardest working guys in all the sports I play, and I love being around them.”

Playing rugby seems to have helped the group the most with tackling.

“Scrums definitely help linemen staying low,” Dellinger said. “Overall, rugby helps with tackling. Me personally, I’ve noticed a big difference, and a crazy number of the tackles on our team are from rugby guys.”

Inspired by his dad’s love for the sport, Sam Haines encouraged many of Blair United’s current players to sign up.

“When I was younger, I got introduced to it by Sam,” McCready said. “I really thought it was cool to watch, and I wanted to get involved with it. When we started playing and I saw how it helped my tackling, I stuck with it.”

Blair United plays 10 games each spring and has players from Altoona and Bishop Guilfoyle alongside the Hollidaysburg kids on its roster. The team plays 70-minute games from March through May and plays its home games at Tiger Stadium.

“They are some of the best athletes we have at Hollidaysburg,” Fisher said. “We are multi-sport athletes who are working hard to get better, and rugby really compliments any other sport you want to play.”