Lunch time at Meade High School for the football players is more than a brown bag with a sandwich and apple. The Mustangs go to the movies every day with coach Jerry Hartman ruling the remote control.
Hartman shows films of the team's next opponent, and middle linebacker Wilson Rodriguez is hooked.
"We have a one-hour lunch period at Meade and our players take 20 minutes to eat and then watch films for 40 minutes on a daily basis," said Hartman, a teacher of time management.
Paying close attention to films, Rodriguez gains a mental edge to go with his sturdy 5-foot-10, 225-pound frame. The combination has enabled him to contribute heavily to the team's 6-1 record and dramatic turnaround from 1-9 in 1994.
"We decided during the summer while we were lifting weights and running that we were going to get serious this year, and we have," said Rodriguez, a Chicago native who moved to Fort Meade in seventh grade and had to forgo youth football because couldn't meet weight requirements. "Watching film every day has been really helpful in reading blocking schemes and having a good idea what a team is going to do."
No. 15 Meade clinched its first winning season since 1989 with a 36-20 victory over Glen Burnie (4-3) last week. Rodriguez paid close attention to the Gopher films and had a typical game -- 12 tackles, an interception and a fumble recovery.
"Wilson is a great team leader who understands offensive
formations and picks out the tendencies of the teams we watch on film," said defensive line coach Scott Harmon. "He is a great stunt guy and loves to make contact despite the fact that he has been playing on a bad knee most of the season."
Rodriguez hyper-extended the knee lifting weights this summer and said he "gets little stingers," but plays through it and will have it scoped after the season.
Dedication to the iron has developed Rodriguez into a physical force on the football field. Rodriguez, who benches 385 pounds and squats nearly 500 pounds, anchors a Mustang defense that has given up 105 points, an average of 15 points a game, third best among county public schools.
A three-year starter, Rodriguez has made 68 unassisted tackles, has three interceptions (team has 18) and two fumble recoveries. He said he "doesn't care about stats because it's one for all, all for one on this team."
Rodriguez credits Hartman for pushing him and his teammates out of the doldrums. Hartman spent over 20 years as a college assistant at such schools as Navy and Colorado before going to Meade three years ago and transforming the Mustangs into the kind of winning team they were when the late Jerry Mears started the program in 1977.
"Wilson ran his butt off all summer to get ready for this season and playing middle linebacker for the first time has done a pretty good job," said Hartman. "He fills up the run pretty good and has gotten better as the season progressed.
"We also use him at fullback in short-yardage situations. Wilson is a very strong kid."
Rodriguez uses that strength to punish opposing ball carriers and to finish his favorite play -- the blitz.
"I like the big hit that everybody sees," said Rodriguez. "I enjoy dishing out the punishment, but I don't talk trash after a hit. I do my talking with my helmet and shoulder pads."
Just this week Rodriguez talked to a coach from Division II Sacred Heart University (Mass.). He realizes his lack of height will keep him from playing linebacker in Division I and he will be satisfied with a Division II opportunity.