Daniel Rodriguez arrived at Clemson a year ago to great fanfare, a 24-year-old war hero who earned a chance to step back in time and live out his dream as a college football player.
Rodriguez's story has been told worldwide. He served tours in both Iraq and Afghanistan, and was one of 22 American soldiers wounded in the Battle of Kamdesh in 2009. He was awarded a Purple Heart and Bronze Star Medal for valor.
He handled his celebrity with humility and grace, traveling across the country to accept numerous honors for his courage. Lauded as an inspiration to others, Rodriguez experienced a special thrill when he was chosen to carry the American flag down The Hill on Clemson's Military Appreciation Day.
Now, Rodriguez wants to put his past behind him.
After contributing last season as a special teams player and reserve receiver, Rodriguez hopes to work his way into a more significant on-field role for the Tigers this year.
"We have a one-on-one with the coaches before we start camp, which gives you a good perspective on where they think you are," Rodriguez said after practice on Tuesday. "I made the point to the coaches that while obviously my military background is going to be a significant part of my life and who I am, I want them to look at me as Daniel the football player, not Daniel the soldier.
"I don't want to just be a 'feel good story' any more."
What Rodriguez wants is to be seen as a reliable performer and trusted teammate.
"I want to be considered a player who comes out here and competes and busts his butt every day to be the best player he can be," Rodriguez said. "That extends to the off-season, lifting weights and working out, as well as studying film. I want to become a player on the team that is trustworthy and dependable in critical situations."
As a teammate, he says he feels more comfortable and confident than he did a year ago, when he arrived at Clemson six years older than the youngest players on the team and with a vastly different set of life experiences.
"I feel like I'm getting to what I've been striving for from Day 1," Rodriguez said. "I feel I've made a transformation as a teammate. Last year when younger guys asked me questions, I couldn't give them answers because I was in the same position as they were. Now I can give them answers.
"I think I've made the transition from soldier to teammate pretty successfully, and I like that feeling. A year under my belt is such a significant tool to have, being a veteran and being comfortable in the system.
"Coming back and knowing what I'm doing gives me a much more comfortable feeling. I feel like I'm back in a groove as far as football goes."
When Rodriguez imagines himself on the field this fall, he sees himself as a special teams regular and a spot, clutch wide receiver.
"I want to do whatever the coaches would have me do," he said. "Personally, I would love to be a receiver who goes in on short-yardage situations and could be counted on to make plays. I want to contribute as much as I can on special teams, and just see as much of the field as I possibly can.
"I love the game, and just being able to go out there and compete is a blessing."