Originally posted on Fox Sports Carolinas  |  Last updated 11/12/12
The first months back were tough on Daniel Rodriguez. He carried memories of the carnage he had witnessed. He was sullen and withdrawn. He drank a lot. But the words came back to Rodriguez, a promise he made his friend while they were battling terror and the Taliban in the mountains of northeastern Afghanistan in October 2009.Rodriguez had told Pfc. Kevin Thompson that he would pursue his dream of playing college football if he survived. Rodriguez made it back. Thompson didn't. The promise lives in the form of an orange uniform and unbridled enthusiasm that Rodriguez shows for his new team at Clemson, where he is a 24-year-old walk-on receiver and special teams player for the 11th-ranked Tigers (9-1). He's one of two FBS players with a Purple Heart, joining Idaho's Corey Sandberg. He may only be a walk-on, Clemson coach Dabo Swinney told The New York Times, but he's a team leader to these 18- to 22-year-olds, some of whom have a sense of entitlement or want to feel sorry for themselves or dont understand the privilege they have. Plenty of stories have been written and have aired about Rodriguez and the perilous path he traveled from a high school football player whose father died only four days after he graduated high school in Stafford, Va. He joined the Army to find discipline and direction and served in Iraq before going to Afghanistan, where he fought in the Battle of Kamdesh three years ago. Rodriguez was wounded when a bullet tore through his shoulder and shrapnel ripped into his legs and neck. Thompson and seven other Americans were killed. Rodriguez returned home a disillusioned, decorated vet who discovered that his Purple Heart and Bronze Star couldn't cure him of post-traumatic stress disorder. He visited Arlington National Cemetery about once a month, often breaking down at the graves of his friends. Friends close to Rodriguez say he was not the same person after he came home, but therapy and the memories of the promise he made to Thompson spurred Rodriguez to continue his dream, even though he hadnt played organized football since he was in high school and hes 5-foot-8 and 175 pounds. He began working out, which he has said helped alleviate the symptoms of PTSD, and asked a friend to make a video to show coaches his desire to play. The video went viral, thanks to Jake Tapper of ABC News, who had interviewed Rodriguez about the battle, and tweeted a link to it. Swinney eventually saw it and offered Rodriguez a spot as a preferred walk-on. I was mesmerized by his video, Swinney told the Times. I'm watching and thinking, 'Holy cow, he's amazing. Rodriguez has played in all 10 of Clemson's games, recording three special teams tackles. He caught his first collegiate pass in a blowout win over Ball State on Sept. 8 and now has three receptions for a total of 10 yards. When Clemson celebrated Military Appreciation Day on Oct. 20, Rodriguez gave a pregame talk to teammates and proudly carried the American flag when the Tigers ran down the hill and onto the field before their game against Virginia Tech. He didn't stop at the team's bench, enthusiastically waving the flag as he ran around the field. Coincidentally, Rodriguez had grown up as a Hokies fan and had plans to enroll there after graduating high school. In the third quarter, Rodriguez met Michael Polidor and Justin Kulish, Air Force captains who not only had piloted the pregame flyover but had provided air support for Rodriguez and his unit during the battle. The three men hugged on the field while the game was stopped in the third quarter. I left a family in the military and suited up with a new family here at Clemson. It meant the world to me, Rodriguez said after that game. The respect and the fight we go through every day is something to see. I told them I just wanted to play as a family just like we do every other day. It meant something to me, and I just wanted to tell them that I am appreciative of what they do and how they want to thank me for my service.
GET THE YARDBARKER APP:
Ios_download En_app_rgb_wo_45
MORE FROM YARDBARKER

Wisconsin kicker will wear 27 to honor Nebraska's Sam Foltz

Dennis Schroder wears disguise to play in German streetball tournament

Browns indicate they will give Josh Gordon another chance

Prince Fielder to undergo season-ending neck surgery

Eagles want Carson Wentz to be 'starter ready' Week 1

LIKE WHAT YOU SEE?
GET THE DAILY NEWSLETTER:

Report: 49ers concerned Anthony Davis will quit again

Did Manning hurt NFLPA's case in HGH investigations?

Report: Steinbrenner won't allow fire sale, wants to make playoffs

Report: Dion Waiters agrees to one-year deal with Heat

Report: Junior Galette out for season with torn Achilles

Usain Bolt, Justin Gatlin in war of words over 'disrespect'

Tom Jackson could leave ESPN after almost three decades

Cavs sign coach Tyronn Lue to a five-year extension

More than 10,000 people registered for Jaguars Pokemon Go night

NFL issues new concussion protocol

Angels listening to offers on Hector Santiago

Five U.S. Olympians favored to win multiple gold medals

Kevin Durant’s OKC restaurant will be closed, rebranded

Lamar Odom said to be held back by one 'toxic friend'

Mario Balotelli crashes Liverpool fans' wedding

Michael Vick: I used to feel I was 'dominating too much'

WATCH: Astros, Rangers minor leaguers get into brawl

A too early preview of UEFA World Cup 2018 qualifying

College Football News
Delivered to your inbox
You'll also receive Yardbarker's daily Top 10, featuring the best sports stories from around the web. Customize your newsletter to get articles on your favorite sports and teams. And the best part? It's free!

By clicking "Sign Me Up", you have read and agreed to the Fox Sports Digital Privacy Policy and Terms of Use. You can opt out at any time. For more information, please see our Privacy Policy.
the YARDBARKER app
Get it now!
Ios_download En_app_rgb_wo_45

Five U.S. Olympians favored to win multiple gold medals

WATCH: What teams should join the Big 12?

One Gotta Go: Do NBA players really love NBA2K?

Effect of ban on Russia could span beyond the Olympic Games

One Gotta Go: NBA players hate Facebook too

QUIZ: Name every city to host the NBA All-Star Game

One Gotta Go: NBA players settle the fast food beef

One Gotta Go: NBA players make tough choices on their favorite rappers

One Gotta Go: NBA Summer League is not about that Game of Thrones life

The top NHL free agents available as offseason winds down

Today's Best Stuff
For Publishers
Company Info
Help
Follow Yardbarker