War vet, Purple Heart honoree close to walking on at Clemson

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Appropriately enough, given the holiday we are in the midst of celebrating, there is a pretty damn cool story developing at Clemson.

After starring at Brooke Pointe High School in Virginia, Daniel Rodriguez appeared set to embark on a playing career at the collegiate level. Tragically, his father died of a heart attack four days after Rodriguez graduated, pushing the player away from realizing his dream of playing college football and into a career in the military.

Rodriguez joined the Army in 2007 and, one month after completing basic training, began serving a 15-month tour of duty in Iraq as part of an infantry unit. He served a second tour in Afghanistan, losing eight friends in a fierce battle with the Taliban in October of 2009. For his heroics during that battle, he was awarded both the Bronze Star and Purple Heart.

Honorably discharged roughly six months later, Rodriguez began attending community college and resumed his effort to play football at the collegiate level. Rodriguez, the Greenville News writes in a very nice feature on the veteran, “began training tirelessly and produced a video that served as his recruiting film.”

While Rodriguez had hoped to remain in his home state and play for Virginia or Virginia Tech, the tape caught the attention of Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney. After making two visits to the school, Rodriguez was offered the opportunity to become a walk-on for the Tigers by Swinney, a walk-on himself at Alabama in 1989 before earning a scholarship.

Rodriguez, a 5-8, 175-pounder who hopes to fill a role at slot receiver, is still awaiting clearance from the NCAA that would allow him to be eligible to play in 2012. When the NCAA does ultimately come to its senses and clears Rodriguez, the veteran doesn’t want a “play-for-pity arrangement,” the News writes.

“A handout is a shortcut to failure,” he said. “I don’t feel that I deserve anything. I don’t feel like I’m entitled to anything.

“I know there is a spotlight on my situation, but at the same time, I don’t feel like it’s been handed to me. I feel like I busted my butt in Iraq and Afghanistan, and I feel like I’ve busted it in the gym and in school to be given this chance.”

How can you not root for a young man like that, with that attitude and what he’s given to this country?

Fittingly, the paper also deftly fits in a discussion with Rodriguez regarding Arlington National Cemetery and how he wants to live his life honoring those killed in battle.

“I have friends buried there. I say my piece, and I always break down,” said Rodriguez…

“I definitely want to live my life better for the ones that have given everything,” he said. “A lot of people take stuff for granted and complain about things, when I’ve got mothers on my phone that are never going to see their sons again.

“I will never be over the losses 100 percent, but it’s what builds my character. It’s the foundation inside of me. You can have a foundation, or you can have an anchor. Both are solid and strong, but one is going to drag you down. The other is going to build you up.”

Damn. Again, how can you not root for Rodriguez?

Additionally, and for those who are interested, below is the video that caught Swinney’s attention. I’d strongly urge you to take seven minutes and some change out of your day to view it.

It would be well worth your time.

(Photo credit: Daniel Rodriguez)

Suspended Mich. St. staffer receives one-MONTH contract extension

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A disturbing situation in East Lansing has added a head-scratching twist.

According to ESPN.com, and by way of a Freedom of Information request, Michigan State football staffer Curtis Blackwell was on the receiving end of a one-month contract extension earlier this month.  Blackwell, whose title with the football program is director of college advancement and performance, was set to see his contract expire at the end of this week.

What makes this development noteworthy is that Blackwell has been indefinitely suspended by the Spartans since early February.

Around that time, it was confirmed by the university that three still-unnamed MSU football players had been suspended after allegations of sexual assault were made against them last month.  An unnamed football staffer was suspended at the time as well; that staffer was subsequently identified as Blackwell.

A police investigation, as well as a Title IX probe, into the allegations continue.  Blackwell is not accused of participating in the alleged sexual assault, but rather a non-sexual crime that’s connected to the investigation.

Mark Dantonio hadn’t spoken publicly about the allegations until earlier this week, and the head coach probably would’ve been better served to have kept it that way.

A&M, UCLA both add New Mexico to future schedules

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Texas A&M and UCLA announced Wednesday that their 2017 opener had been moved from Saturday to Sunday.  As it turns out, that wasn’t the only scheduling news connecting the two football programs.

As part of a release announcing seven games being added to its future schedules, New Mexico confirmed that two of those contests will include A&M and UCLA.  Both of those games, obviously, will be on the road, with the Lobos traveling to College Station Sept. 18, 2021, and to Pasadena and the Rose Bowl Sept. 13, 2025.

In its release, the school wrote that “[t]he game in College Station has a guarantee of $1,100,000 and 450 complementary tickets,” while “[t]he game in Pasadena has a guarantee of $1,200,000 plus 2,000 complementary tickets that UNM can sell for extra revenue.”

The last and only time New Mexico and UCLA squared off was in the 2002 Las Vegas Bowl, a 27-13 win for the Bruins.  UNM and A&M actually completed a home-and-home series relatively recently, with the Aggies winning both games played in the 2008 (28-22) and 2009 (41-6) seasons.

In addition to the future Power Five games, a continuation of the long-running rivalry with UTEP will be extended.  UNM will play in El Paso in 2021, then host UTEP in 2022.  Those two games will mark the 79th and 80th contests in the regional rivalry.

Michigan State, Washington round out future schedules with Utah State

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Needing to fill a single spot in some future schedules, both Michigan State and Washington have come calling to the Mountain West for an opponent. Utah State was happy to oblige.

Michigan State will host Utah State on September 1, 2018. The Aggies will travel to Washington on September 19, 2020. For their travels, Utah State will collect $2.9 million between the two games, according to FBScheduels.com ($1.4 million from Michigan State, $1.5 million from Washington).

The Big Ten and Pac-12 each use nine-game conference schedules, leaving three spots open for non-conference games. The Big Ten requires all conference members schedule one game per season against another power conference opponent (the Pac-12 has no such requirement of its members at this time), although exceptions are made. Utah State, as a member of the Mountain West Conference, would not satisfy that requirement for the Big Ten, but the Spartans already have a road game against Arizona State (Pac-12) on the schedule in 2018. Michigan State and Arizona State will play again in 2019 in East Lansing. Michigan State also has future power conference matchups with Notre Dame (2017, 2026, 2027) and Miami (2020, 2021). Michigan State will also play BYU in 2020 in Provo.

Washington has future power conference matchups with Rutgers (2017), Auburn (2018, in Atlanta), and Michigan (2020, 2021). The Huskies will also face Mountain West Competition from Fresno State (2017), Hawaii (2019), and Nevada (2027).

Utah State will face power conference opponents on the road in 2017 (Wisconsin, Wake Forest), 2018 (Michigan State), 2019 (Wake Forest, LSU), 2020 (Washington), and 2021 (Washington State). Utah State will also host Washington State in 2020 as part of a home-and-home deal. Utah State also has an annual series against BYU running through 2020.

Old Dominion hopes to “hit the ground running” on new stadium project

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Some fans of the Old Dominion football program may be getting a little impatient with the progress (or lack of) in the development of the football stadium, but Old Dominion athletic director Wood Selig says things are coming along nicely and progress will start to be seen soon enough.

“Once we get the architects engaged, we’ll figure out what $55 million will buy in 2019 dollars,” Selig said, according to The Virginian-Pilot. “Then we’ll have an idea for how much additional money needs to be raised to support the project.”

Old Dominion is planning on tearing down Foreman Field at the end of the 2018 season and rebuild it with modern seating and amenities. The $55 million project remained on the books in the Virginia budget in February, allowing the university to move ahead with their plans. The first step is finding an architect to take on the job.

Because Old Dominion’s football stadium is among the smallest in the nation and will remain so even after the rebuild and renovations, the entire project is expected to move fairly swiftly once the work actually begins. Old Dominion isn’t building a grand football palace, so any concerns over the lack of updates on the stadium should be calmed.

If nothing else, the concerns raised about the lack of updates on the stadium renovations may just mean Old Dominion has some eager fans excited about the future of the program.