Like every one of his friends on his football team at Brook Point High School, Clemson's Daniel Rodriguez aspired to one day play college football.

But that dream was put on hold after the unexpected death of his father, Ray, just four days after graduating from high school.

"It was very sudden. It was one of those things where I could have broken down," Rodriguez, now 24, told Fox News Latino recently.

It was pretty crazy. A great feeling not having played football in over six years, and in your first game back you're playing Auburn in the Georgia Dome. It was a pretty wild environment.

- Daniel Rodriguez

Saddened by the passing of his dad, whom he idolized while playing football as a kid, and unsure about this future, Rodriguez decided to sign up for the Army without even telling his family and friends.

"I had a mother and sister I had to be strong for so I just thought I had to do what I needed to do to become my own man," he said. "I didn't have a way of venting or anything like that. I kind of just took off and got away from everything."

The decorated Army veteran, who was promoted to sergeant before an honorable discharge, served in the U.S. military from 2006 to 2010. His first tour lasted 15 months in Baghdad.

Being in Iraq and coping with its dangerous conditions made him look at life differently.

“It was tough what I went through so it's kind of hard to really say it was positive. But, you know, what I saw over there and what I had to do gave me a perspective on life to just appreciate and come back and cherish the opportunity that I had," he said. "[It made me] really be driven to pursue my goals and dreams and aspirations," he added.

While deployed, Rodriguez and his fellow soldier and friend, Pfc. Kevin Thompson, spent a lot of time together and talked about life after the military.

Just days before a battle in Kamdesh, Afghanistan, took the life of Thompson three years ago, the two spoke about their dreams. Rodriguez was wounded in his leg, neck and shoulder but was devastated Thompson did not make it out alive.

He remembered a conversation in which Thompson made him promise that he would play football once their stint in the Army was over.

"We were just talking and I was just like, 'I got to get out of here. You know, I really want to get out of the military and just do my own thing,” Rodriguez said.

With Thompson's words of encouragement in mind, Rodriguez was able to put together a video with the hope of getting into a college football program.

Clemson University came with an offer and helped him get the necessary waivers from the NCAA and ACC to play.

The dream that Rodriguez and Thompson envisioned became a reality when the walk-on stepped on the field at the Georgia Dome against Auburn back in September.

"It was pretty crazy. A great feeling not having played football in over six years and in your first game back you're playing Auburn in the Georgia Dome," Rodriguez said. "It was a pretty wild environment."

Rodriguez, who had been awarded a Bronze Medal for Valor and a Purple Heart, was honored at the BCS championship with a Discover Orange Bowl Courage Award.

"It was incredible," Rodriguez said. "I really don't look for awards or anything like that. It was definitely a humbling experience being recognized. It was a great, touching feeling."

Rodriguez is excited as his second season approaches and is already looking forward to their first game against Georgia. Last season, the team won 11 games and beat LSU in the Chick-fil-A Bowl game.

"We're ready to shock the world and let them know we're not underdogs any more. We're a very competitive team and we can play with anybody at anytime," he said. "We have dreams and aspirations of winning a national championship."

Adry Torres, who has covered MLB, NFL, NBA and NCAA basketball games and related events, is a regular contributor to Fox News Latino. He can be reached at elpiloto137@gmail.com or follow him on Twitter: @adrytorresnyc

 

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