Daniel Rodriguez: Clemson WR, United States Army


So many times when you write about college football, you’re looking for that hook lead-in that isn’t the most positive. More often than not, it sometimes is about something negative that happened off the field, or how a young man is befallen the goat of his football program by a missed extra point or a late game costing fumble or interception. The gridiron can be an unforgiving place. You can see the butterflies churning on their faces as the nervousness fills the air. They are after all, just young men between the ages 18-23. Yet when the contest is over, the two teams converge at the middle of the field, coaches and adversaries shake hands, and on to next Saturday.

So watching Tom Rinaldi’s piece on Saturday about Clemson Wide Receiver Daniel Rodriguez, it was great to root for something positive.

Oct 5, 2013; Syracuse, NY, USA; Clemson Tigers head coach Dabo Swinney (left) and wide receiver Daniel Rodriguez (83) gesture to the crowd following the game at the Carrier Dome. Clemson defeated Syracuse 49-14. Mandatory Credit: Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports

Something of such substantial value that’s much more than wins or losses, 1st downs or touchdowns. When most highly recruited high schoolers are thinking about playing the hat game, Rodriguez became a recruit in the United States Army. If you watched any of the piece, you saw actual footage of Rodriguez and his buddies in combat. What you didn’t was the battle that shaped him into what he is today. 200 or more Taliban fighters in an ambush against only dozens of Specialist Rodriguez and his comrades. They fought sometimes at point blank range. In the end, 8 of Daniel’s buddies didn’t make it. It was the bloodiest battle of that year. Even Rodriguez was wounded multiple times but survived. Awarded the Bronze Star for Meritorious Service on the battlefield, Purple Heart for combat wounded. Medals that aren’t just freely given away.

Rodriguez survived and came home to a promise he made to one of his fallen friends, Private First Class Kevin Thomson. A dream to play college football. At 5’8” it would be rough sledding, but surely any kind of nervousness would fall by the way side. Rodriguez has seen worse. So he made a video tape of himself and Clemson liked it. Walked on using his G.I. Bill at 22 years old and will graduate, but more importantly the dream isn’t quite over yet. He’s got a book, Rise, that’s a bestseller, and a movie about his life on the way. But if you were to ask the Clemson Wide Receiver about himself, more often than not, he’ll tell you that it’s more about his buddies than anything else and the promise that he kept. This Veteran’s Day keep the young men and women like Daniel Rodriguez and those who’ve served in mind. Hoo-ah young man…