When Daniel Rodriguez puts on No. 83 and runs onto the field for Clemson’s football practice on Friday, he will accomplish something more meaningful than most any other player in college football.
You see, Rodriguez is a former soldier in the Army, and he and a comrade stationed in Afghanistan, Pfc. Kevin Thompson, talked about what they would do with their lives when they returned to the United States. A former high school football player in Virginia, Rodriguez promised Thompson he would pursue playing football.
A few days later, Rodriguez and Thompson were among nearly 40 U.S. troops attacked by about 400 Taliban. Eight were killed, including Thompson.
Rodriguez left Kamdesh with shrapnel in his leg and neck, and a bullet fragment through his shoulder. He was awarded the Bronze Star Medal of Valor. He also received a Purple Heart and was promoted to staff sergeant before an honorable discharge in 2010.
With Thompson’s words etched in his heart, Rodriguez began his football journey with a committed workout regimen. His workouts went viral on YouTube recorded them and put posted them on the video site. Rodriguez received inquiries from about 50 schools, including Clemson and coach Dabo Swinney.
Swinney, a former walk-on at Alabama who eventually became a scholarship receiver, related to Rodriguez and was eager to give him a chance. His grades were not good enough to get into Virginia and Virginia Tech was not willing to get the waivers from the NCAA and ACC for him to play. Swinney said the Tigers were committed.
“He is getting the opportunity to follow his dream,” Swinney said. “We are excited to have him join our program. I have no doubt that he will become a great leader for us.”
“I’m using the hardships, the horrors, the killing, the friends that I’ve lost as my fuel to (get) where I want to be,” Rodriguez said. “So I think if you can turn and manipulate anything negative in your life and use it as something good, that’s what I’ve taken into my life.”