HAMDEN — The one liners were coming in at a fast and furious pace when Joe Linta began to venture down a road that few NFL player agents had ever navigated before when he represented an NFL hopeful he knows better than any of his previous clients.
Even the NFL executives who have worked with Linta for years were a tad bit skeptical when he first began to sing the praises of his son T.J. The quick-witted Linta can spar verbally with anybody so the NFL bigwigs were more than happy to return the favor.
As time went on, however, it became clear that T.J. Linta’s pro football aspirations would not be a part of punchlines for very long. More than once Linta heard the line, “how did a kid of yours get to throw the ball like that?”
T.J. Linta first got to show off that big arm when he played in the Tropical Bowl in January. What followed in the next few months has been a bit of a whirlwind. There was a pro day with representatives from nearly 20 NFL teams held at Columbia University, a regional combine in Kansas City, months spent working out alongside fellow NFL draft hopefuls in Florida and more recently, people ranging from Tennessee Titans head coach Mike Vrabel to San Francisco 49ers quarterbacks coach and former UConn assistant Shane Day flying in to get a first-hand look at the Branford native.
“Quarterback coaches have flown in to see him and that tells you something because they aren’t doing that because they are friends of mine,” Joe Linta said.
T.J. Linta, who threw for 1,481 yards with 13 touchdowns and four interceptions at Wagner in 2018 after starting at Brown for two season, also got to take part in the local pro days with both the New York Jets and Giants as the buzz around him continues to grow.
“It really was eye opening,” T.J. Linta said. “At the pro day at Columbia in middle of March, I threw the ball really well there I thought. A lot of the scouts showed interest and since then I have met with a couple of teams and there was the regional combine in KC week before that. It’s been a good ride trying to get in front of as many people as I can. I am what I am and they just need to see that and as soon as I can get in front of someone, hopefully they will know.”
Some may know Joe Linta as the agent for veteran quarterback Joe Flacco, but some of his best work has come with under the radar prospects. Going back 18 years, Eric Johnson was a dynamic receiver who still holds Yale records for catches in a game and in a season but he also seemed like a player without a position at the next level. Working with Linta, he added some weight to his frame and was taken by San Francisco in the seventh round of the 2001 draft. Johnson finished with more catches than 30 receivers or tight ends drafted ahead of him with 82 of his 240 career receptions coming in the 2004 season. Fast forward to 2018, Linta helped former Purdue and LSU quarterback Danny Etling through the process that culminated with him being taken by New England in the seventh round. Now he is looking to do the same with his son who followed up an impressive run at Hamden Hall (playing for his father) to play first at Brown and then at Wagner as a graduate transfer in 2018.
Joe Linta was at every game that T.J. played at Wagner as a fan, but the next day he would start looking at his son’s game tape and it became evident to him that T.J. was good enough to at least get himself into an NFL training camp.
“I looked at game film as a scout or agent and at the end of the year I said I am not going to be apologetic, the kid is good and deserves a chance,” Joe Linta said. “Were he not my son, I still would have recruited him. This is not a daddy ball thing, this is legit and I’ve had a lot of people like Ron Jaworski, Chris Palmer, Jim Miller to analyze his tape and they said, ‘he can play.’ I make no apologies when I call the GMs, I don’t care if it is my kid or your kid, it doesn’t matter. I decided I wasn’t going to represent him with any less zeal than I would anybody else.”
His belief is that T.J. likely won’t be drafted but there is enough interest out there that he is confident that he will be picked up by an NFL team if his name isn’t called in next week’s NFL draft. There is also an offer from a CFL team just in case the NFL doesn’t come calling.
T.J. Linta grew up with the NFL draft weekend being one of the most hectic and exhilarating times in the Linta household. He would watch players that his father represented get their names called or sign as free agents not long after the draft came to a close.
“Some of my first memories revolved around the NFL draft and these guys he had back in the day,” T.J. Linta said. “He had these Patriots I remember in ’01-’02-’04 when they were winning the Super Bowls back then, guys like Russ Hochstein and Joe Andruzzi, some of the first guys I remember seeing. I must have been 6-7-8 years old at that time and just seeing these huge, massive guys and said it would be crazy to play with them one day or be that big one day. To be able to play with those guys, watch what they do, be on a franchise like that would be an incredible opportunity.
“The last couple of years there have been some ups and downs,” T.J. Linta said. “In the last year I ended on a high note and it has given me this opportunity to take it to the next level. A lot of scouts and coaches in the NFL have given me positive feedback so the dream is becoming a reality more and more every day. It is super fun and I am excited for what is ahead and glad that I can make it to this point.”
The last quarterback who played his high school football in Connecticut to be taken in the NFL draft was Shelton’s Dan Orlovsky, who was selected in the fifth round of the 2005 draft after a record-breaking career at UConn. It is another former UConn quarterback who has given Linta hope at defying the odds and landing on an NFL roster. Last year Tim Boyle used an impressive pro day performance to catch the eye of the Green Bay Packers. Boyle was not only signed by Green Bay but made the team.
“Tim is a great kid and I have been trying to follow in his footsteps since high school. He was a great high school quarterback [at Xavier] and he kind of paved the way for great Connecticut high school quarterbacks in the NFL,” Linta said. “I am so happy for him that he was able to get that chance in Green Bay and he really took strides. I remember watching him in that preseason game [against Tennessee], he killed it. He took advantage of every opportunity he was given and that is what I am trying to do, I am trying to follow in his footsteps and make people in Connecticut realize that it can happen. People from this area are going to the NFL, they are succeeding, making the team as he has done and hopefully as I will do.”
T.J. plans on watching the draft with him mother and when the draft wraps up with the final four rounds, there will some anxious moments. His father will be checking in but with 13 other clients including highly-touted former Maryland safety Darnell Savage and former Princeton quarterback John Lovett, an underrated prospect who Joe Linta truly believes will be drafted, he’ll be a bit busy.
T.J. would expect nothing less than to see his father working the phones to get his clients their chance to realize their NFL dreams.
“He is really great with talking to people and connecting with people, he can connect with people from all different backgrounds and he can talk to the GMs, presidents of teams,” T.J. Linta said. “He is a down to earth, genuine guy and he is a just a good person, that impresses me the most because in this field of agenting a lot of sleazy things can happen but it has really impressed me how he can so successful doing everything the right way. That is a testament to his character, how he is as a person and I couldn’t ask for a better role model.”
Joe Linta is thrilled to see T.J. work his way into becoming an NFL prospect but his pride doesn’t end there.
“The first thing that everybody says about him is that he is a great kid so as a parent, you pat yourself on the back a little for that,” Joe Linta said. “The playing part, I am just proud of how he has gone through a lot of adversity over the years and been able to handle it whether it was at Branford or at Brown or wherever but he has always been able to survive and moved onto the next thing.”