by David Hood
- Senior Writer
- 2012-06-29 15:26:10.0
CLEMSON – The long and winding road that led Daniel Rodriguez from the foothills of Virginia to the mountains of Afghanistan has taken yet another turn.
He is officially a Clemson Tiger, will start classes on the Clemson campus next Monday and will have the opportunity to suit up for head coach Dabo SwinneyDabo Swinney Head Coach View Full Profile and the Tigers this fall.
Rodriguez said he found out early Friday morning that he had cleared all NCAA hurdles, and would be allowed to walk on to Clemson’s football team and compete for a spot this season rather than sit out a year. He will not take up a scholarship slot – he is going to school on the G.I. Bill.
“It has been a crazy road, that is for sure,” Rodriguez told TigerNet Friday. “I have been back and forth with compliance, and just getting everything squared away. Last night I got a call from the compliance office and they asked me to give them a call. I called them this morning, and they said they just wanted to let me know that the NCAA had granted my waiver.”
Rodriguez said there was no way he could have been more excited.
“I freaked out, because I was so excited,” he said. “Just looking at all of the hard work I have put in, and everything everybody has gone through to help get me here. Getting over that first big hurdle, and seeing everything come through is awesome. I appreciate the efforts of everyone. I feel like so much weight has been lifted off my shoulders. I am so excited to be eligible.”
Rodriguez was a three-year starter at Brooke Pointe High School in Stafford, Virginia, playing all over the field – slot receiver, safety, cornerback, special teams and even backup quarterback. When his high school career ended, he enlisted in the Army, a decision that sent him to Afghanistan.
On October 3, 2009, he and his unit took part in one of the bloodiest battles of the war – The Battle of Kamdesh. The battle saw a force of around 300 Taliban militants attack American Combat Outpost Keating (COP Keating) in the early morning hours. What unfolded was a nightmare for Rodriguez and the men of his unit. The soldiers were pushed back into a corner almost within the hour, but despite being outnumbered began to fight their way back to the outpost’s outer perimeter, and Rodriguez was in the middle of an action that saw over 150 of the Taliban killed or wounded.
He caught shrapnel in his legs and neck and took a bullet fragment through his shoulder, and received the Bronze Star for valor for his acts during that battle. Accounts said that he ran 300 meters under heavy fire to take the place of a fallen soldier. He was treated for his wounds in-country and completed his 12-month tour.
He was honorably discharged from the service after three promotions, and returned home to begin another life – the life of a college student. He took advantage of the G.I. Bill and enrolled immediately at Germanna Community College in Fredericksburg, Va., but the thoughts of once again playing on the gridiron were never far from his thoughts.
He initially wanted to go to Virginia Tech, but Swinney eventually found out about Rodriguez and his efforts to return to the playing field, and Swinney invited Rodriguez to Clemson to try and walk on to the football team.
That process is now complete, and Rodriguez said he can't wait to once again suit up for practice or play in a game.
“I have been thinking about this since the last game I played in high school,” Rodriguez said. “I was in that locker room, with tears in my eyes, and you know that 99 percent of those guys will never play the sport again. I have been dreaming of this moment for a long time. I am just anxious to get back out there and suit up again. I want to see how far our hard work will take this team. This is a group of guys that are committed to being winners, and I am excited about that.”
He said that while he dreams of once again taking the field in an actual game, there is one game and one moment that tops them all.
“I am really looking forward to the Military Appreciation Game against Virginia Tech,” he said. “I have so many friends that will be coming down for that game, and I am honored to be a part of it as a Clemson student. I just feel like that is the game where I will have a chance to prove myself. I can say to them, ‘I wanted to come play for you, but now I have landed at a better school.’ But really, it will be just a cool feeling to run out on that field again and be a Clemson Tiger.”