"OUT OF THE DARKNESS" FOR ARMED FORCES MERIT AWARD NOMINEE DANIEL RODRIGUEZ


EDITOR’S NOTE
- This is the sixth in a series of articles about nominees for the second annual Armed Forces Merit Award presented by the Football Writers Association of America (FWAA).  Also nominated were Kelly Davison of UCF, Michael Kelley of UTEP, Brandon McCoy of North Texas, Stephen Rhodes of Middle Tennessee and Jake Sheffield of Arizona State.

Daniel Rodriguez, a sophomore at Clemson, has been nominated for the second-straight year for the Armed Forces Merit Award presented by the Football Writers Association of America (FWAA).

Coordinated by the staff at the Bell Helicopter Armed Forces Bowl, the Armed Forces Merit Award presented by the FWAA was created in June 2012 “to honor an individual and/or a group within the realm of the sport of football.”  The second recipient of the award will be announced November 11 on Veteran's Day.

Bronze Star Green Beret solider Nate Boyer, a member of the University of Texas football team, was the first recipient last November of the Armed Forces Merit Award presented by the FWAA.

A finalist for the inaugural Armed Forces Merit Award presented by the FWAA when 15 nominations were considered, Rodriguez won the 2012 Discover Orange Bowl-FWAA Courage and USAA Athletic Inspiration Awards.  He also attended the ESPYs as a finalist for the Jim Valvano Perseverance Award.


Rodriguez has played in all five of the games for unbeaten Clemson this season.  He has rushed once for five yards, caught four passes for 16 yards, returned two punts for 18 yards and has one assisted tackle.  As a redshirt freshman in 2012, Rodriguez caught three passes for 10 yards in 46 snaps for 13 games.  He also continues to be a “major” contributor on Clemson’s special teams.

Attending college on the GI Bill, Rodriguez was offered a spot on the Clemson team as a walk-on after coach Dabo Swinney saw a video about the former U.S. Army Sergeant and recipient of the Purple Heart and Bronze Star Medal with Valor Device for his heroism at Kamdesh.

While serving in the Army (2006-2010), Rodriguez spent approximately 18 months in Iraq and one year in Afghanistan,  He was involved in Battle of Kamdesh in Afghanistan (October 3, 2009) when 300 Taliban insurgents battled with 38 U.S. troops (eight Americans lost their lives and 22 were injured, including Rodriguez).

In Esquire's 80th anniversary issue earlier this month, Brian Mockenhaupt wrote that "Rodriguez had been a star high school football player, and after the months of post-Afghanistan, screw-the-world, no-one-knows-what-I've-been-through darkness, he rekindled his dream to play college ball, worked out three times a day, and made a stylish video showcasing his manic drive that blew up on YouTube and drew coaches' attention."
 
Mockenhaupt quoted the 25-year old Rodriquez in saying that he devoted himself "to something rather than sulk in my reclusiveness, that's what helps get me through it.  The more I put time into something I was passionate about, the more I strayed away from my nightmares and waking up in panics and sweats.  I still have my moments, but I found balance.  So many veterans come home and just revolve their lives around the negativity.  Everybody's gone through adversity. Just because you enlisted doesn't make you special."

The Esquire writer noted that he found a "profound value in his (Rodriguez) story.  He does not view himself as a war veteran or a college athlete; rather he defines himself by everything in between then and now - the darkness, the coming to terms, the decision to transform, and the lonely, relentless work.  The first element, the darkness, is a given for many. The rest is a choice."

Swinney feels Rodriguez "presence has helped the team, and he never forces his leadership.  It has really made the team appreciate our military, and realize that there are a lot more problems in the world than our third-down conversion rate."

Sammy Watkins, Clemson’s leading receiver, say he “loves having him (Rodriguez) on our team.  He's a motivator, and he brings fire to our team.  Daniel's hyped up every day, hyped up just to be living.  We know what he's been through.  I like the way he comes in every day and goes to work, just like everybody else.  He practices hard, he plays hard.”

All-everything Tiger quarterback Tajh Boyd offered that "when you come to Clemson you learn about the military heritage and history, but when you've got a guy like Daniel on your team, it changes your whole perspective.  It's exciting to have him on our team - a guy of a similar age and to hear about everything that went on.  That's real life."""""