When Clemson opens fall camp on Friday, the easiest Tiger to root for will be the one wearing No. 83. It's not the return of All-ACC tight end Dwayne Allen - who wore the number No. 83 for the Tigers from 2008-11 - but a national hero: combat veteran and Purple Heart recipient Daniel Rodriguez.
It was Rodriguez's lifelong dream, and promise to a brother-in-arms, to play college football. After receiving honorable discharge in 2010, Rodriguez was officially cleared by the Atlantic Coast Conference to join Clemson's football program in time for the 2012 season this week. He was cleared by the NCAA in late June.
"I am very happy for Daniel," said Clemson coach Dabo Swinney in a school release. "He is getting the opportunity to follow his dream. We are excited to have him join our program. I have no doubt that he will become a great leader for us. His background and story is an inspiration to us all."
Rodriguez served as an Army infantryman in both Iraq and Afghanistan. During his second tour of duty, the Stafford, Va. native was wounded in the battle of Kamdesh in Oct. 2009. An estimated 400 Taliban insurgents approached a remote American base with "fewer than 40 soldiers."
Eight Americans were killed and 22 were wounded in the battle, including Rodriguez - who took shrapnel in his legs and neck and a bullet fragment in his shoulder. It was one of the bloodiest days for American troops in Afghanistan. Rodriguez was awarded a Bronze Star of Valor and Purple Heart for his bravery in the firefight.
One of the eight troops killed in the battle of Kamdesh was Rodriguez's friend, Pfc. Kevin Thompson. Just a few days earlier the pair had discussed their post-war plans, and Rodriguez promised Thompson he would follow his dream of playing college football.
Rodriguez's story first became known when a YouTube video of his workouts went viral, which was followed by a feature on Dan Rather Reports. But when it came to earning a Division I scholarship, cleaning the academic hurdles was a challenge.
"There was a lot of paperwork and Clemson was willing to do that," Rodriguez said. "I'm grateful to them."
The 5-foot-8 Rodriguez will play wide receiver for the Tigers in 2012, but is not expected to have an immediate impact on the depth chart. According to the Purple Heart recipient, the opportunity to compete seems to be enough.
"I'm not this high-scouted athlete expected to change this program," Rodriguez said. "I'm just a cog on the wheel that's going to play my role and better the team from an individual standpoint and give insight from what I've been through as a person. If I can help mold some of these guys in the locker room to have the same perspective on life I have, that's a benefit."
For much more on Clemson and the ACC, check out the ACC Rapid Reports from conference bloggers Sean Bielawski and Shawn Krest. You can check out Daniel's story in the YouTube video below.
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