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)

Arizona State AD picks up $350,000 bonus after Sun Devils APR scores are released

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We discussed the release of Academic Progress Rate (APR) data from the NCAA on Thursday and some of the bonuses that college football coaches received for their teams’ performance in the classroom. Well, those coaches should have had Arizona State athletic director Ray Anderson as their agent because his APR-related bonus puts all others to shame.

Per The Arizona Republic, Anderson — a former agent, it should be noted — is getting a whopping $348,310 in bonus money as the result of the Sun Devils’ latest APR score. Here’s how the paper breaks it down:

Under terms of a new contract signed last fall that pays $800,000 in base salary, Anderson will receive $348,310 in academic bonuses. That breaks down to $136,000 for football’s 975 (out of 1000) APR score, $120,000 for ASU’s overall APR score and $92,310 for six teams receiving public recognition awards for an APR in the top 10 percent nationally.

$350k! For comparison’s sake, USA Today notes that Florida State AD Stan Wilcox picked up $17,000 in APR bonuses. That bonus for Anderson was nearly as much as New Mexico State’s Doug Martin was paid in total salary.

No matter what you think about the whole paying of college athletes or the NCAA system at large, it seems pretty clear by some of the figures in coaches and athletic directors salaries that there is plenty of money to go around.

LSU QB Myles Brennan’s dad downplays transfer of Joe Burrow, not worried about depth chart

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LSU’s quarterback race heated up after spring practice thanks to the transfer of former Ohio State signal-caller Joe Borrow but the incumbent at the position does not appear to be worried about him coming in and taking the starting job.

Well, at least that quarterback’s dad isn’t worried. Owen Brennan, father of sophomore QB Myles Brennan, spoke to The Sun Herald about the situation in Baton Rouge and it certainly doesn’t seem like the latter is planning on transferring himself and seems quite confident in becoming the starter for the opener against Miami.

“Here’s what I think: I think Joe Burrow has three years and 15 pounds on Myles. That’s it,” the elder Brennan said. “I don’t think he has a huge upper hand.

“I think (Myles is) in a very, very good position to compete for the starting job. I really do… That’s just my opinion. If I thought the opposite, if they were bringing in Tom Brady or something, I’d say, ‘hey, Myles, look …’ But I don’t see him in that position.”

The younger Brennan saw action in six games last season and is the only player on the roster to have thrown a pass for the Tigers, throwing one touchdown against a pair of interceptions. Redshirt freshman Lowell Narcisse also made some noise in the spring to where coaches thought the race was fairly even and would push into fall camp. That’s certainly the case now with Burrow joining the team this summer.

It’s not surprising to hear a dad is confident in his son’s abilities and thinks he’ll become the starter but the real question on everybody’s mind over the next few months is what Ed Orgeron thinks about the race in what is becoming a very big season for him at LSU.

Punters are transfers too: Northwestern picks up grad transfer punter Jake Collins from WKU

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Punters are transfers too and Northwestern just picked one up.

The Bowling Green Daily News is reporting that Western Kentucky punter Jake Collins was given his release from the school and will be a graduate transfer to Northwestern. He is listed as a redshirt freshman and will be immediately eligible.

Collins has been the Hilltoppers punter the last three years and averaged 40.2 yards per punt last season. If you’re scratching your head hearing the name or school and wondering where you remember him from, Collins went viral for perhaps the worst fake punt in the history of fake punts when WKU played Florida International:

Collins will likely wind up replacing Hunter Niswander with the Wildcats after he graduated. His departure does leave WKU without a punter listed on their roster though some changes and walk-ons might wind up filling the spot for the 2018 season.

Clemson preseason depth chart lists Kelly Bryant as top QB, Trevor Lawrence as backup

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While some coaches fight tooth and nail to release any information about their program like who might be starting a game (cough, Jim Harbaugh, cough), that is not exactly how Clemson’s Dabo Swinney runs his shop. Case in point came Wednesday when the team released a “preseason” depth chart that featured few surprises but plenty of talent as the Tigers likely begin the year in the top four of just about everybody’s early polls.

Of course, the one storyline most people will focus on is the quarterback position for the team. Senior Kelly Bryant is listed as the starter as expected following spring practice but it is notable that there’s now a clear pecking order behind him as he fights off five-star freshman Trevor Lawrence, who was the clear No. 2 at the position following the transfer of Hunter Johnson. There seems to be some distance between Lawrence and fellow (redshirt) freshman Chase Brice, which means just about everybody will be wondering if No. 2 at the spot will eventually take over if Bryant gets off to a slow start in 2018 after some struggles in Clemson’s postseason run.

Elsewhere, there were a handful of positions that raised an eyebrow, including running back Travis Etienne jumping over last year’s starter at the position in Tavien Feaster. Adam Choice will also see plenty of time as that’s yet another deep spot for the team. Also notable is Kendall Joseph sliding over to take the starting job at middle linebacker in place of the guy who manned the same spot last season in Tre Lamar.

The school also notes that they have 17 returning starters (including both specialists), including their fearsome defensive line that “is the first in NCAA history to have four returning players who have been a first or second-team All-American previously.” Needless to say, Clemson will once again be the heavy favorite to win the ACC and make yet another trip to the national championship game.