Patrick Finn entered the Pottsgrove high school football scene as a green and somewhat gangly freshman reserve.
More than three years later, Finn will exit his Falcons career as perhaps the best lineman in their storied history — as well as one of the best in area history.
A 6-foot-4 tackle who is currently at about 240 pounds after finishing last year around 270, Finn has helped Pottsgrove amass 30 victories over the past three seasons, and Friday he and the fourth seed Falcons (8-3) travel to top seed Springfield-Delco (11-0) for a District 1-AAA semifinal matchup.
“Personally, I think he’s the best offensive lineman I’ve ever coached,’ said 26th-year Pottsgrove coach Rick Pennypacker, a standout former lineman himself who played at West Virginia. “He’s very explosive, very powerful and very smart. Plus he’s got great feet. He’s the first offensive lineman we’ve had here that’s gotten Division 1 scholarship offers.’
Finn, who verbally committed to Bucknell last week, is also a standout wrestler — having brought home a PIAA-AAA silver medal at heavyweight last year.
Still, Finn admitted he slightly prefers the camaraderie of the gridiron, where he has forged an uncanny bond with a past and present band of in-the-trench brothers.
Finn first began to get a taste of that atmosphere as a freshman, when Pennypacker brought him and fellow current star senior Mike Fowler along for a memorable ride that culminated in the Falcons winning the District 1-AAA crown and advancing to the PIAA quarterfinals before falling to perennial power Archbishop Wood.
“I just saw how the team came together as a family and how they all fought together,’ Finn said. “Seeing them cry after that last game really showed me how important this is to everyone, and how seriously you have to take it.’
And Finn has been nothing but serious about learning his craft over the past three seasons.
“My freshman year I wasn’t a great player; I was getting my butt kicked by a lot of older guys,’ Finn said. “But I knew if I could just keep working at it, good things would happen.
“Throughout the winter, spring and summer (prior to his sophomore year), I lifted with my teammates and we kind of grew together. We pushed each other and prepared each other to get ready for this season. I looked up to all the guys that played for Pottsgrove from my freshman to my junior years that had great work ethics and just tried to follow what they did.’
As a sophomore, Finn began to turn some heads as part of a squad that won the Pioneer Athletic Conference title, reeling off its first 11 wins while advancing to the 1-AAA semis.
Then last year, he really came into his own as the Falcons repeated as PAC-10 champs, again by winning their first 11 games while reaching the 1-AAA semis. He was named PAC-10 lineman of the year as well as a Class AAA second-team all-state pick by Pennsylvania Football News.
Though things haven’t gone as smoothly this fall, Finn has been a rock of strength for a squad that’s been able to improve as the season has progressed.
After opening with a 41-7 loss to Ben Franklin (Pottsgrove’s worst loss in 12 years) and seeing a record 25-game league winning streak halted in a 20-7 Week 4 loss to Methacton, the Falcons have won six of their past seven games (the lone defeat in that span a 49-21 Week 9 loss to league champion Perkiomen Valley).
“I just try to be a good influence and good leader out on the field,’ Finn said. “I don’t really talk a whole lot; I just try to show them a good example and hope they follow it.’
That goes as well for the defensive side of the ball, where Finn has notched a team-high 91 tackles. He contributed a sack in last week’s 13-12 quarterfinal victory over Academy Park.
“This year I thought he got a lot better on defense,’ Pennypacker said. “I thought last year he was good, but this year he’s better as far as his technique and he’s a little more aggressive.
“Last year you never saw him just go all out after someone, but he showed perfect technique at defensive end. This year we moved him to tackle, where he can use some of his brute force on his drive and also get off the offensive lineman and make plays, and he’s done a lot better job.’
What’s made Finn’s final-year experience even more rewarding is the fact that he plays alongside his younger brother Ryan, a promising sophomore, on the D-line.
“We play pretty much in tandem,’ Finn said. “It’s cool. I like it.’
And speaking of family ties, Finn happens to be a nephew of Pennypacker, who he considers one of his biggest influences.
“I’d say he’s been one of the biggest factors in my development,’ Finn said. “On the field he gets in your head and yells at you. He makes sure you get off the ball and play with emotion, and that’s really helped me out.’
Finn, likewise, has helped the Falcons maintain their lofty presence among PAC-10 and District 1-AAA title contenders over his varsity career.
“I knew he’d be good, but I didn’t imagine this good,’ Pennypacker said. “He was tall and skinny as a freshman; he always had those size 17 shoes. The first year he learned, and then over time he worked on all of his skills, and he’s at the point where all of his hard work and his commitment in the weight room and everything has gotten him to where he’s at now.
“He benches damn near 400 pounds and he can run 10 miles. I’ve been coaching offensive line a long time, and his first steps off the ball are as quick and powerful as I’ve ever seen. That’s what all the college coaches are looking for.’
Pennypacker is just as proud of Finn’s demeanor off the field.
“Maybe the best thing about Patrick is that he’s the best teammate,’ Pennypacker said. “He’s smart, he’s intelligent and the kids love him. I think every kid in this room respects him because of his hard work. He doesn’t talk, but he has a commanding presence.
“It’s kind of funny to watch some of our younger kids, because no one likes to go up against him (in practice). A couple of college coaches mentioned to me that when they watched him on film, they’d see him knock the hell out of someone and pancake them, but then help the kid back up. That’s Patrick. He’s just that kind of kid. I’m very proud, as his coach and as his uncle, because he’s worked so hard to get where he is.’
For now, Finn’s main focus is helping the Falcons continue their postseason journey.
“I just know that if I can play hard and if everyone can play well, it won’t end,’ Finn said. “That’s all we’re playing for right now. We just don’t want football season to end.’
Regardless of when that happens, rest assured that Finn has already left an indelible mark as one of the most powerful presences in program history.