Rodriguez, 27, a native of Stafford, Va., played football at Clemson after being discharged from the Army in 2010. He enlisted immediately out of high school in 2006, a decision spurred in part by the death of his father. Rodriguez won a Purple Heart and Bronze Star Medal with Valor Device after fighting while woulded in the Battle of Kamdesh in 2009 during his second tour, a 12-month deployment in Afghanistan. His first tour was a 15-month stint in Iraq.
His story has been documented by an ESPN feature, among other media, and he's published an autobiography, but Rodriguez's journey now continues to the NFL level, at least for now. After impressing at a Rams rookie orientation several weeks ago, the 5'8", 190-pound Rodriguez has signed a contract with St. Louis.
“It’s been incredible, honestly,” Rodriguez said in a recent interview with stlouisrams.com. “Coming here has been something that’s really opened my eyes -- being surrounded by elite athletes and an organization that’s incredible. And I’m just trying to make the most of it.”
After Rodriguez's second tour in Iraq, he promised a friend – later killed in combat – that he would give football another shot. He played a year of community college ball, attended Clemson on the GI Bill and played three seasons for the Tigers, serving mostly on special teams.
“It was just one of those things where I felt that if I had any purpose in life, I needed to make sure that I kept my word to a friend, and live my life in a way that honored those who had died,” Rodriguez said. “I needed to make sure that I represented myself well on behalf of my friends who were killed. And that was just trying to live through a promise.”
The Rams invited Rodriguez, who went undrafted, to try out after meeting with team personnel at the postseason Medal of Honor Bowl
“When they invited me, I was like, ‘Heck yeah, I would love to tryout. I’ve got nothing to lose,’” Rodriguez said. “They flew me out here and I thought I was only going to be here for a two-day trial. And they said I had a pretty good workout, made some plays, and they offered to have me stay.”
Though Rodriguez might be a long shot to make the Rams' roster, there will be plenty of people pulling for him.
- Jeremy Woo