Clemson's Daniel Rodriguez receives Orange Bowl Courage Award

By Jerry Hinnen | College Football Writer

Clemson wide receiver Daniel Rodriguez isn't your average college football player. He's 24. He's a walk-on. His last school before coming to Clemson was Germanna Community College, which doesn't offer athletics programs. And, oh yeah, he's an Army veteran attending Clemson on the GI Bill after a tour of duty in Afghanistan that saw him awarded the Purple Heart and Bronze Star.

Based on his accomplishments Rodriguez was awarded the Orange Bowl-FWAA Courage Award Wednesday. The award is voted on by members of the Football Writers Association of America from a pool of nominees that have shown "courage on or off the field, including overcoming an injury or physical handicap, preventing a disaster or living through hardship."

Rodriguez came to Clemson after returning home from Afghanistan, then putting together a video of his combat action and pass-catching ability -- a video that caught Dabo Swinney's eye and helped fulfill a promise Rodriguez had made to a friend killed in Afghanistan that he would play college football

“I am very happy for Daniel,” Swinney said in the Orange Bowl statement announcing the honor. “This is a special award and it further acknowledges his accomplishments. His journey to Clemson has been an inspiration to me, our team and many people around the country. It is a story of overcoming adversity and really brought home to everyone on our team the support we have in our military.”

“Wow, this is a great honor,” Rodriguez said. “I want to thank the Discover Orange Bowl and the Football Writers Association. When I think where I was three years ago, this is like a dream. I just wanted to get on the football field, be a part of a team and a university, but this season has been so much more. I want to thank coach Swinney and Clemson University for giving me this opportunity.”

Roriguez was selected over seven other nominees, including Arkansas cheerleader Patience Beard. The complete text of the Orange Bowl-FWAA release:

DALLAS (FWAA) – Clemson's Daniel Rodriguez is the winner of the 2012 Discover Orange Bowl-FWAA Courage Award, as selected by a panel of FWAA members. Rodriguez, a redshirt freshman receiver from Stafford, Va., is playing for the Tigers after being awarded a Purple Heart and Bronze Star in Afghanistan.

Rodriguez, who was chosen from several deserving nominees in a vote by a committee of FWAA members, will be presented the award and recognized in conjunction with the 2013 Discover BCS National Championship Game on Jan. 7.

Rodriguez, 24, was wounded Oct. 3, 2009, during a battle near Kamdesh, Afghanistan, while serving in the U.S. Army. Combat Outpost Keating, in a mountainous region near the Pakistan border, was ambushed by nearly 300 Taliban insurgents. Eight Americans were killed; 22 were injured. Rodriguez was shot and wounded in the leg, neck and shoulder.

Once recovered and discharged from the military, Rodriguez kept a promise to his friend, Pfc. Kevin Thompson, who was killed during the initial moments of the attack. Rodriguez had told Thompson if he made it home from Afghanistan, he would find a way to play college football.

After enrolling at Germanna Community College, he began training for football. He sent a video of himself catching passes, spliced with video he'd shot during combat, to four-year schools. Clemson coach Dabo Swinney offered Rodriguez a spot on the team.

“I was mesmerized by his video,” Swinney told the New York Times. “I'm watching and thinking, ‘Holy cow, he's amazing.'”

Swinney said Rodriguez is deserving of the Courage Award.

“I am very happy for Daniel,” he said. “This is a special award and it further acknowledges his accomplishments. His journey to Clemson has been an inspiration to me, our team and many people around the country. It is a story of overcoming adversity and really brought home to everyone on our team the support we have in our military.”

Rodriguez enlisted in the Army after high school shortly after the unexpected death of his father, also an Army veteran. He served from 2006-10, spending 18 months in Iraq and a year in Afghanistan. He is attending Clemson on the GI Bill.

The 5-8, 175-pounder played in every game this season, mostly on special teams. He made four tackles and had three catches for 10 yards.

“You always dream of that second chance to play football again,” Rodriguez said. “I'm in that position. I have that second opportunity that so many people have said, ‘I wish I could get one more shot.' Well, now it is my shot. I have that opportunity.”

When Clemson celebrated Military Appreciation Day this season, Rodriguez led the team onto the field carrying the American flag. The school also honored pilots who supported Daniel's unit during a battle in Afghanistan. Rodriguez was able to greet them on the field.

“Wow, this is a great honor,” Rodriguez said. “I want to thank the Discover Orange Bowl and the Football Writers Association. When I think where I was three years ago, this is like a dream. I just wanted to get on the football field, be a part of a team and a university, but this season has been so much more. I want to thank coach Swinney and Clemson University for giving me this opportunity.”

For the seventh straight year, the Football Writers Association of America and the Discover Orange Bowl announced weekly nominees during the season. A blue-ribbon panel of FWAA members determined the winner from all of the nominees.

The Courage Award was created by ESPN The Magazine's senior writer Gene Wojciechowski, also a FWAA member. A select group of writers from the FWAA vote on the winner each year. The requirements for nomination include displaying courage on or off the field, including overcoming an injury or physical handicap, preventing a disaster or living through hardship.

Previous winners of the FWAA's Courage Award are Michigan State offensive lineman Arthur Ray Jr. (2011), Rutgers defensive tackle Eric LeGrand (2010), the University of Connecticut football team (2009), Tulsa's Wilson Holloway (2008), Navy's Zerbin Singleton (2007), Clemson's Ray Ray McElrathbey (2006), the Tulane football team (2005), Memphis' Haracio Colen (2004), San Jose State's Neil Parry (2003) and Toledo's William Bratton (2002).

2012 Discover Orange Bowl Courage Award Nominees

Sept. 26: Daniel Rodriguez, Clemson
Oct. 3: Angelo Richardson, Arizona State
Oct. 10: Patience Beard, Arkansas
Oct. 17: Neiron Ball, Florida
Oct. 31: Dan Werner, Mississippi
Nov. 8: Jay Prosch, Auburn
Nov. 15: Austin Woods, Oklahoma
Nov. 21: Blair Holliday, Duke

Photo via Clemson athletics

 
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