War veteran Rodriguez brings courage and perseverance to Clemson’s football team
In the pre-dawn hours of Oct. 3, 2009, an estimated 300 Taliban insurgents approached a remote American base perched on a mountain near the town of Kamdesh in rugged northeastern Afghanistan. The battle that followed marked one of the bloodiest days of fighting for American troops in the Afghan war.
Fighters surrounded the base and opened fire with mortars and rocket-propelled grenades. Air support was urgently requested and insurgents overran the base in three locations. Of the 60 Americans at the base, eight were killed and 22 wounded.
Daniel Rodriguez was one of the injured Americans. He had taken shrapnel in his legs and neck, and a bullet fragment pierced his shoulder. He was awarded a Bronze Star and Purple Heart for his bravery in the battle that ended with an American evacuation three days later.
Clemson football coach Dabo Swinney hopes Rodriguez’s example of courage and perseverance will influence the team. Rodriguez hopes he can inspire veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder as he begins his college football career Friday when the Tigers open training camp.
Rodriguez, 24, was cleared to join the Clemson football program Tuesday as a walk-on by the Atlantic Coast Conference. He was cleared by the NCAA last month.
“If you are my teammate, you didn’t see a bullet go through (my) shoulder,” Rodriguez said Wednesday. “You don’t have blood on your boots. You don’t have brains still on your clothing.
“But if I can show that through my work ethic, in the belief I have, that it’s never enough not to accomplish what you have your mind set on, I hope that rubs off on someone.
“Now that I am in this position to have the spotlight on me, I hope it can help veterans with PTSD and show kids with (poor) grades that it’s not too late. You can overcome.”
Rodriguez played high school football in Virginia but struggled academically. Four days after graduating high school in 2006, his father, Ray Rodriguez, died and Rodriguez went to an Army recruiter.
“I said: ‘Get me out of here.’”
He served in Iraq and Afghanistan.
After being discharged and returning to good health, he began working out six hours a day, seven days a week. He enrolled in a community college.
A friend suggested he make his own recruiting video and send it out to Division I college coaches. Once the video hit YouTube, it went viral.
“The first time I was contacted by Dan Rather, I knew this was something big,” Rodriguez said.
Fifty college coaches reached out to Rodriguez, including Swinney, who was fascinated with the video and was interested in bringing aboard a war veteran who could offer his team perspective and the value of perseverance.
“I’ve overcome the odds once,” Rodriguez said. “I don’t sell myself short in anything I do and I don’t think anyone who is around me will.”