Daniel Rodriguez

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


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)

Leonard Fournette returns for LSU but late score helps Ole Miss tie things up at halftime

BATON ROUGE, LA - OCTOBER 22: Head coach Ed Orgeron of the LSU Tigers talks to head coach Hugh Freeze of the Mississippi Rebels before a game at Tiger Stadium on October 22, 2016 in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.  (Photo by Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images)
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Leonard Fournette has spent most of October resting up a litany of injuries that has kept him out of the lineup.

Based on the way he looked Saturday night in helping LSU tie things up 21-all against Ole Miss at halftime, it appears the tailback is finally healthy.

Fournette needed just six carries to cruise over the century mark on the ground and finished the half with 171 yards rushing and two scores — the first on a 59 yarder in which he ran over the Rebels defense, and the latter one a 76 yarder in which he raced away from nearly everybody on the field.

Quarterback Danny Etling didn’t need to do much with big No. 7 toting the rock so well but did manage to pass for 120 yards and a long 40 yard touchdown pass to D.J. Chark.

The Tigers defense also stepped up in slowing the Rebels normally potent offense. Chad Kelly threw one ill-advised interception and nearly tossed a few more as the Ole Miss offense had problems finding much consistency. The team was bailed out by their defense recovering a fumble just before the end of the second quarter that set up their final score to close the gap otherwise Hugh Freeze would have gone into the locker room with a deficit.

LSU has certainly been rejuvenated under the tenure of interim head coach Ed Orgeron and that continued in the first half of their SEC West showdown with his old team. The only question left might be what Fournette can do for an encore after racking up some impressive numbers in the first half against Ole Miss.

Boise State, Western Michigan rejoice as Houston stumbles again

DALLAS, TX - OCTOBER 22:  Greg Ward Jr. #1 of the Houston Cougars is sacked by Demerick Gary #10 of the Southern Methodist Mustangs and Mason Gentry #93 of the Southern Methodist Mustangs in the first half at Gerald J. Ford Stadium on October 22, 2016 in Dallas, Texas.  (Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images)
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Houston’s rather significant loss could prove to be a sizable gain for a couple of fellow Group of Five programs.

Entering Saturday’s game against SMU ranked 13th in the country, the Cougars inexplicably fell behind 21-0 to a Mustangs team that came in at 2-4. Instead of mounting a comeback and righting what’s suddenly become a listing season, the Cougars could get no closer than 14 points (twice) the rest of the way in falling 38-16.

The loss is UH’s second in its last three games, a stumble that came after winning its first five games of the season and moving to as high as sixth in the Associated Press rankings. While Houston hasn’t seen its New Year’s Six bid completely go up in smoke, it’s seen it severely damaged.

Ready to pick up the G5 pieces are Boise State and Western Michigan.

Both of those Broncos exited Week 8 undefeated, the MAC version at 8-0 and the MWC’s 7-0. Boise, which was No. 14 following Week 7, will most certainly leapfrog Houston, while WMU, ranked 20th, should do so as well.

One other G5 team is currently ranked: No. 24 Navy, whose 4-1 record includes a win over Houston that doesn’t look quite as good as it did a couple of weeks ago.  Another of that group received more than one vote in the most recent poll, although those votes will likely evaporate Sunday as USF lost to Temple Friday night.

The first set of rankings that actually matter, the College Football Playoffs, will be released Tuesday, Nov. 1.

Colorado’s reward for huge win over Stanford? In-N-Out Burger

GLASGOW, UNITED KINGDOM - JUNE 07:  In this photo illustration a man eats a hamburger in a cafe on June 7, 2006 in Glasgow, Scotland. New figures are suggesting that a large proportion of the population is clinically obese.  (Photo Illustration by Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images)
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Somewhere Mike Riley is smiling and nodding knowingly.

The current Nebraska head coach had somewhat of a tradition while at Oregon State in which he would take his football team to In-N-Out Burger following a particularly big win.  Picking up that burger mantle is Mike MacIntyre, who rewarded his Colorado team with a trip to the famous fast-food joint following their physical, grinding road win over Stanford earlier in the day.

The 10-5 win was deserving of such a reward on a couple of levels.

First, it moved the Buffaloes to 6-2, pushing the football program to bowl eligibility for the first time since 2007. Most importantly, however, it allowed CU to keep pace with Utah in the Pac-12 South, with both the Buffs and Utes sitting at 4-1 with four conference games remaining.

One-fourth of that remaining quartet? A clash between in the regular-season finale between those two squads — in Boulder — that’s looking more and more like it will determine the division’s representative in the conference championship game.

No. 5 Washington continues to roll through the Pac-12 North after throttling Oregon State

SEATTLE, WA - OCTOBER 22:  Quarterback Jake Browning #3 of the Washington Huskies passes against linebacker Caleb Saulo #35 of the Oregon State Beavers on October 22, 2016 at Husky Stadium in Seattle, Washington.  (Photo by Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images)
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It’s been 16 years since Washington has won a conference title but the Huskies took another step toward their goal of ending that streak on Saturday as they blasted Oregon State in a game that wasn’t even as  close as the 41-17 final score indicated.

While most of the college football world was undoubtedly focused away from the Pacific Northwest, quarterback Jake Browning did not hamper his budding Heisman Trophy campaign by throwing for 291 yards and three touchdowns in just over three quarters worth of work (he also added a rushing score). Fellow sophomore Myles Gaskin didn’t need long to top the century mark on the ground, finishing with 128 yards and a touchdown before the fourth quarter began.

Receivers John Ross and Dante Pettis both had big games as well, with each going over 100 receiving yards and recording catches of over 40 yards. Pettis also found the end zone twice.

The Huskies defense also stepped up to turn in another nice outing, recording four sacks and two interceptions while holding the Beavers to just 4-of-13 on third down. It was a tough task for Oregon State quarterback Marcus McMaryion (148 yards in the air) as the team’s third-stringer was making his first start of the year on the road in a difficult environment and facing one of the best defenses west of the Mississippi.

The win keeps Washington undefeated on the year and sets up a big showdown in Salt Lake City against fellow top 25 team Utah, which moved to 7-1 on the season with a nice win over UCLA earlier in the day. While it might be quite unexpected on both sides, it’s probably not a stretch to think that contest is the Pac-12 game of the year and a potential league title game preview given how both sides looked this weekend.