CLEMSON — Daniel Rodriguez smiled as he sat down to speak with reporters Monday morning.
“Apparently there’s some kind of big game this weekend,” the Clemson sophomore receiver said.
Big for Rodriguez, indeed. The Tigers’ much-celebrated Purple Heart and Bronze Star recipient will lead his teammates down the hill before the Military Appreciation Day game with Virginia Tech Saturday, carrying a large American flag.
It is a significant honor for Rodriguez, an Iraq and Afghan War veteran who survived the Battle of Kamdesh, one of the bloodiest battles of the Afghan War. He grew up a Hokie fan, as did his late father, whose birthday is Saturday.
“I guess my background fits the credentials. It worked out, I’m honored to do it and it’s great,” Rodriguez said. “I’m pretty ecstatic about it. It’ll be awesome to see the crowd go crazy with all the veterans.”
Rodriguez originally wanted to attend Virginia Tech as a walk-on, but the Hokies declined to apply for an NCAA waiver which would allow him to leave community college short a necessary credit. Clemson agreed to do so, and the NCAA approved.
“It’s kind of crazy how things align, how things fall into place,” he said. “It’s pretty plain that I was a Virginia Tech fan my whole life. Military Appreciation Day, playing against a team I hoped to play for. It’s cool how everything worked out and hopefully we come out of there with a ‘W’ and it’s a good day.”
He has played in every game this season, working as a receiver, a punt returner and on special teams, thus meeting his preseason goal of being versatile. Rodriguez said he has “come into his own” this fall and feels very accepted by his teammates, who gave him a welcome “hard time” about his media celebrity.
Representing a school with Clemson’s military history, he said, has been a special treat; he knew nothing of it before he discussed a walk-on spot with coach Dabo Swinney.
“It’s cool being a part of this military heritage,” he said. “It’s an honor. A lot of people are appreciative of what I and others have done for this country, this community, this state. It’s a blessing for people to care about what I’ve done for this nation.”
Oct. 3 marked the three-year anniversary of the Battle of Kamdesh, and while Rodriguez didn’t celebrate it, it was hard to avoid. He suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder and said he woke up in “panics.”
“Your brain knows, your mind knows,” he said. “I was bummed out, lost a lot of friends and was injured. I had to keep pushing through. Even at practice I was sluggish, had a lot on my mind, had a lot going on in life.
“I pushed through. Coach Swinney called me out of practice, said ‘Rodriguez was wounded and bleeding out.’ Putting it in perspective and being on that field, it’s a triumph to know what I’ve gone through.”
Clemson-VT on ABC/ESPN2: The ACC announced Monday that Clemson-Virginia Tech will air on ABC and ESPN2 at noon Saturday. ESPN is using what is called a “reverse mirror”; the game will be on ABC affiliates within the ACC footprint and on ESPN2 in the rest of the nation.
Hokies lose top lineman: Virginia Tech announced Sunday that starting center Andrew Miller will miss the rest of the season after undergoing surgery to repair a broken left ankle suffered Saturday against Duke. Miller suffered what is known as a Maisonneuve fracture, breaking his fibula and tearing ligaments. He was Tech’s only returning starting offensive lineman this season and a candidate for the Rimington Award, given to the nation’s top center. Miller had started the last 21 games at center, with more than 1,400 snaps of experience. Who’ll replace him is unclear; Tech moved guard Michael Via to center Saturday because backup center Caleb Farris missed the game with an ankle injury.