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Game Changers 2014: Daniel Rodriguez

Once you’ve dodged bullets, linebackers aren’t so bad.
Mark Mann / August

Daniel Rodriguez’s story is made for TV: An Iraq and Afghanistan war vet with a Bronze Star and a Purple Heart recovers from PTSD and a drinking problem, and makes the cut for a Division 1 football team—because he promised his best friend, who was killed in action, that he would.

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It was at the Battle of Kamdesh, one of the bloodiest in Afghanistan, where Rodriguez earned a Bronze Star for valor for running under heavy fire to take the place of a fallen soldier, and a Purple Heart for taking shrapnel in his legs and shoulder. It was there he also saw his buddy die. Carrying that memory, the former high school footballer left the Army and embarked on a brutal months-long training regimen. When he posted a video of his progress on YouTube, thousands watched, including several D1 coaches who ended up offering him a spot as a walk-on recruit.

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Today, in his third season as a Clemson Tiger, Rodriguez returns punts and sees playing time as a receiver. “I make plays against future NFL players,” he says. “The coaches are more dependent on me as a leader, not only in the locker room but as a player.” He also gives motivational talks around the country, and has outlined his road from soldier to football player at an ACC powerhouse in his autobiography Rise, due October 7. TriStar just purchased the movie rights to the story, and Rodriguez has been hired to consult on the film.

“I’ve found myself in very low situations in my life,” he says. “Being positive and having a good work ethic was just something I did. I rose above.” His next goal? Making it into the NFL.

FIT FACT: Rodriguez worked out six hours a day, seven days a week to make the cut.


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