Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

War Hero Has Rams Tryout

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

War Hero Has Rams Tryout

Article excerpt

You can debate whether the smallest player on the practice field Friday has the biggest heart. But this cannot be disputed: Former Clemson wide receiver Daniel Rodriguez, 5-8, 180, was the only one at Rams Park with a Purple Heart.

Rodriguez, 27, was in the Army from 2006-10, reaching the rank of sergeant and serving in Afghanistan and Iraq. At the battle of Kamdesh in Afghanistan on Oct. 3, 2009, 300 Taliban insurgents battled with 38 U.S. soldiers. Eight Americans lost their lives, and Rodriguez was one of 22 Americans wounded.

He took a bullet to the shoulder and shrapnel in his legs and neck from a rocket-propelled grenade. The leg wounds slowed him down for a while.

"Until I got all the shrapnel out," Rodriguez said after Friday's rookie minicamp practice. "Whatever. I have friends without legs, so I don't really complain much."

He was awarded a Purple Heart and a Bronze Star for his valor, and then ... he decided to give college football a try.

Originally a walk-on, Rodriguez spent four seasons at Clemson, playing mainly on special teams. In 39 career games, he had one start from scrimmage, 11 catches for 39 yards and a touchdown, a 5- yard carry, and six punt returns for 57 yards.

Modest stats to be sure, but he did get an invitation to one of the college all-star games, the Medal of Honor Bowl on Jan. 10 in Charleston, S.C. Rodriguez remembers talking to some Rams scouts during the practice week there, and then last Sunday the Rams called and said they were inviting him to this weekend's rookie minicamp on a tryout basis.

"It's pretty surreal," Rodriguez said. "You kind of hope for an opportunity as a kid to say you got a chance to play in the NFL. For me it's no different, coming back for more (after his time in the Army) and having the opportunity to play Division I football. I just felt, why give up there? So I just kept working."

Since he's here on a tryout basis only, Rodriguez basically has three days to make enough of an impression to get signed to the 90- man offseason roster. The Rams currently have 88 players either signed or drafted.

So there are a couple of spots open, and Rodriguez and Harvard long snapper Tyler Ott are the only players here on a tryout basis this weekend.

Rodriguez is under pressure to get noticed. Certainly not the kind of pressure faced when getting attacked by Taliban insurgents. But pressure nonetheless.

"For me, that's how it's been," he said with a shrug. "I was a walk-on at Clemson. And I had to show out at camp just to make the ... roster. And it's no different here. Obviously, this is a top- caliber paid environment with freaks of nature.

"But you know, I feel that I can compete and I've worked my (butt) off to get to where I'm at. Even if it's a three-day trial and they say 'thank you for coming,' I can't say anything but 'thank you' back. …

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