Clemson’s Daniel Rodriguez named recipient of 2014 Armed Forces Merit Award

Armed Forces Merit Award

Armed Forces Merit Award

FORT WORTH, Texas — Daniel Rodriguez, a senior wide receiver and special teams player at Clemson University, is the third recipient of Armed Forces Merit Award presented by the Football Writers Association of America.

Coordinated by the staff at the Lockheed Martin Armed Forces Bowl, the Armed Forces Merit Award presented by the FWAA was created in June 2012 “to honor an individual and/or a group with a military background and/or involvement that has an impact within the realm of college football.”

Selected by a seven-person committee made up of representatives from the FWAA and the Lockheed Martin Armed Forces Bowl, Rodriguez joins Nate Boyer of the University of Texas and Brandon McCoy of the University of North Texas as recipients of the Armed Forces Merit Award presented by the FWAA.

Boyer, who is completing his third-season as the long snapper for the Longhorns, was honored in 2012 while McCoy was the 2013 recipient during his fourth and final season as a defensive lineman for the Mean Green.

Daniel Rodriguez, Clemson University

Daniel Rodriguez, Clemson University

Rodriguez, 26, was an Armed Forces Merit Award semi-finalist both years while playing at Clemson, where he was the 2012 recipient of the Orange Bowl-FWAA Courage and USAA Athletic Inspiration Awards and an ESPY finalist for the Jim Valvano Perseverance Award.

Attending college on the GI Bill, Rodriguez was offered a spot on the 2012 Clemson team as a walk-on after coach Dabo Swinney saw a video about the former U.S. Army Sergeant and recipient of the Purple Heart and Bronze Star Medal with Valor Device for his heroism at Kamdesh.

“On this very special day, Veterans’ Day 2014, we are pleased to join with the Football Writers Association of America to honor Daniel Rodriguez from Clemson University as the third recipient of the Armed Forces Merit Award,” said Brant Ringler, executive director of the Lockheed Martin Armed Forces Bowl. “We had list of outstanding nominations for this year’s award and it is difficult to honor only one each year when we have men and programs that are very deserving of the honor.”

FWAA President Kirk Bohls, a columnist for the Austin American-Statesman, echoed Ringler’s sentiments along with adding that the FWAA is “pleased to team with Lockheed Martin Armed Forces Bowl to recognize Rodriguez’ achievement as a veteran who used his armed forces experiences to benefit his teammates and coaches at Clemson University. The FWAA also salutes the other 2014 nominations for their contributions on-and-off the field of play.”

Since starting his Clemson career in 2012, Rodriguez has played in 35-straight games for the Tigers as the school has recorded a 29-6 record with bowl wins over LSU (Peach) and Ohio State (Orange). He has caught 10 passes during his career with one touchdown in a 2013 Tiger win over The Citadel on Military Appreciation Day. Rodriguez will graduate next month from Clemson with a degree in parks, recreation and tourism management.

While serving in the Army (2006-2010), Rodriguez spent approximately 18 months in Iraq and one year in Afghanistan. He was involved in the Battle of Kamdesh in Afghanistan on Oct. 3, 2009, when 300 Taliban insurgents battled with 38 U.S. troops (eight Americans lost their lives and 22 were injured, including Rodriguez).

Rodriguez’ story has been detailed in a book “Rise: An Epic Story of a Soldier, His Dream, and a Promise Kept,” which he co-wrote with New York Times best-selling author Joe Layden. Sony’s TriStar Productions has also secured the rights to make a movie based on the book that was released in October 2014.

In Esquire’s 80th anniversary issue in October 2013, Brian Mockenhaupt wrote that “Rodriguez had been a star high school football player, and after the months of post-Afghanistan, screw-the-world, no-one-knows-what-I’ve-been-through darkness, he rekindled his dream to play college ball, worked out three times a day, and made a stylish video showcasing his manic drive that blew up on YouTube and drew coaches’ attention.”

Mockenhaupt quoted Rodriquez in saying that he devoted himself “to something rather than sulk in my reclusiveness, that’s what helps get me through it. The more I put time into something I was passionate about, the more I stayed away from my nightmares and waking up in panics and sweats. I still have my moments, but I found balance. So many veterans come home and just revolve their lives around the negativity. Everybody’s gone through adversity. Just because you enlisted doesn’t make you special.”

The Esquire writer noted that he found a “profound value in his (Rodriguez) story. He does not view himself as a war veteran or a college athlete; rather he defines himself by everything in between then and now — the darkness, the coming to terms, the decision to transform, and the lonely, relentless work. The first element, the darkness, is a given for many. The rest is a choice.”

Swinney feels Rodriguez’ “presence has helped the team, and he never forces his leadership. It has really made the team appreciate our military, and realize that there are a lot more problems in the world than our third-down conversion rate.”

Sammy Watkins, Clemson’s all-time receiving leader and the fourth overall pick in the 2014 National Football League draft, spoke highly of Rodriguez when the two were playing together during the 2012 and 2013 seasons. “I loved having him on our team,” said Watkins about Rodriguez. “He’s a motivator, and he brings fire to our team. Daniel’s hyped up every day, hyped up just to be living. We know what he’s been through. I like the way he comes in every day and goes to work, just like everybody else. He practices hard, he plays hard.”

Tajh Boyd, the Tigers’ all-time leader for passing yards and touchdowns before becoming a sixth-round pick in the 2014 NFL Draft, said that “when you come to Clemson you learn about the military heritage and history, but when you’ve got a guy like Daniel on your team, it changes your whole perspective. It’s exciting to have him on our team — a guy of a similar age and to hear about everything that went on. That’s real life.”

Media Contacts

Tim Simmons, Armed Forces Merit Award Coordinator at 720/244-650 or

Steve Richardson, Football Writers Association of America at 214/70-6516 or

Bryan Delgado, Lockheed Martin Armed Forces Bowl at 817/810-0266 or

Dominic Clark, Lockheed Martin Armed Forces Bowl at 702/682-9937 or

Tim Bourret, Clemson University at 864/656-1926 or

A teleconference was held mid-day Tuesday (November 11) to announce Daniel Rodriguez of Clemson University as the recipient of the 2014 Armed Forces Merit Award presented by the Football Writers Association of America (FWAA).  Joining Rodriguez on the teleconference were Brant Ringler, executive director of the Lockheed Martin Armed Forces Bowl, Kirk Bohls, president of the FWAA and columnist from the Austin American-Statesman, and Dabo Swinney, head football coach at Clemson.

TIM SIMMONS, moderator — Good morning, good afternoon wherever you are, my name is Tim Simmons, I am the Armed Forces Merit Award coordinator.  We welcome everybody to a teleconference to announce Daniel Rodriguez from Clemson University assist the Armed Forces Merit Award presented by the Football Writers Association our teleconference today will be translated by Toni Christy from ASAP and hopefully within the next hour we will have the transcript to mail out and put on the armed forces full web site.  The teleconference today will feature Brant Ringler who is the executive director of the Lockheed Martin Armed Forces Bowl, Kirk Bohls who is the president of the Football Writers Association, Dabo Swinney who is the head football coach at Clemson University and then the fourth and final person will be Daniel Rodriguez who is a wide receiver and special teams performer for the Tigers.  So to start after, Brant Ringler, executive director of the Lockheed Martin Armed Forces Bowl, can you make some comments about the arm forces award?

BRANT RINGLER, Executive Director, Lockheed Martin Armed Forces Bowl:  Sure, first and foremost I want to say thank you to all our veterans and active duty members that have and are upholding the oath to serve and protect our nation from those this that wish to do us harm.  I’m sure Veteran’s Day is always a day of mixed emotions for our veterans but we want them to know we will never forget the sacrifices that they did for our country.  And a special thank you to Daniel, for his service, we will never know the full experience you went through, but the insight you’ve shared in honoring your comrades, is something to forever be commended.  It’s apparent that you’ve taken your experience in the Army and used it to better yourself and those around you.  I’m sure Coach Swinney would say you have given the team a real inspiration and a better understanding of life off the field and I’m sure you would say the team has given you that brotherhood that all warriors always desire to be linked to.  It’s this win win combination that we like to see in selecting a recipient for the Armed Forces Merit Award, and Daniel Rodriguez up holds the values of this award to the fullest.  Therefore on behalf of the Lockheed Martin Armed Forces Bowl and the Football Writers Association of America we are proud to announce Daniel Rodriguez as the 2014 recipient of the Armed Forces Merit Award.  Thank you, Daniel.

TIM SIMMONS:  Thank you, Brandt and now Kirk Bohls to make a statement, the President of the Football Writers Association of America, Kirk.

KIRK BOHLS, President, Football Writers Association of America:  I would like to add my thoughts and what Brant was saying about this veteran’s day and it does my heart good to know that we can take time out of our busy schedule to honor those who have given the ultimate sacrifice and I would like to join with the Lockheed Martin Armed Forces Bowl to help present this award to Clemson wide receiver, Daniel Rodriguez, and going through the nominees that we had and coming up with 15 finalists, I can’t think of a more deserving candidate to receive this award than Daniel.  The first recipient of the award was Nate Boyer a deep snapper here at the University of Texas and I’ve gotten to know Nate over the last three years and he’s the one who are carries out the U.S. flag every time Texas Longhorns take the field so getting to know him a little bit helps me to feel like I know Daniel a little bit.

I was totally moved when the game day feature ran Daniel’s story last Saturday and to see some of the actual video of kind of what he was going through just kinda gives us all pause and makes us all grateful for veterans like Daniel.

I would just like to say, you know, Daniel’s impact goes well beyond what he does on the field and he obviously touches all of his teammates, his Clemson family, and the entire college football community. I want to thank him for that.  We throw around the words “hero” and “patriot” far too loosely and Daniel exemplifies all those qualities and everything that’s good that we see in our sport that we love, and today, Daniel, I would just like to extend my congratulations and salute you.

TIM SIMMONS:  Thank you, Kirk.  Now for Coach Swinney from Clemson University, Coach, welcome.

DABO SWINNEY, head football coach, Clemson University:  Thank you, it’s good to be with you all today.  And I, again, first of all want to thank the Football Writers Association of America and the Lockheed Martin Armed Forces Bowl, all of y’all for selecting Daniel Rodriguez for this incredible honor.  This is just a great award, and, you know, I see that the award was created in 2012 and the purpose it was created for was to honor an individual or a group with a military background or involvement that has had an impact within the realm of college football.

I mean, Daniel Rodriguez is the epitome of that. I’m so happy that he’s being honored this way.  And here it is Veteran’s Day today as well and it’s been a real joy for me to just kind of live side by side with him for the last three years, just kind of go along as a witness to his journey, if you will, and watch how he’s matured as a man and how he’s led this football team and taken advantage of his opportunities and also how he has grown and improved as a football player.  I’m proud of Daniel Rodriguez and he is a great inspiration to me, to his teammates, to this staff, to all of Clemson University but more importantly, Daniel Rodriguez is an inspiration to so many others out there who hopefully can look at him and see his story and be challenged and motivated to follow their dream.  To be willing to pay the price that it takes to achieve that dream.  It’s one thing to have a dream, it’s another thing to act upon it.  That’s what Daniel Rodriguez represents to all of us.

So it’s an honor for me to be able to be with you guys today and I want to thank you once again for selecting Daniel Rodriguez for this award.

TIM SIMMONS:  Coach, Tim again.  Was there any one individual that was responsible for I guess you saw a “YouTube” video of Daniel working out or was it something that passed by and you were searching the internet?  How does that materialize that led to Daniel coming to Clemson University?

DABO SWINNEY:  When his book came out, Daniel brought me a book and signed it with a nice comment in there.  I told him, I said, “Daniel, there’s three reasons why you’re here right now and done is you, because you did what you needed to do to have the opportunity.”  The second one is Mike McKissick and the third one is me.  Mike McKissick is one of our board members here and it’s interesting because, no, I was not surfing the internet, I don’t really surf the internet but I get millions of videos from him and they don’t always get to me, but they come through here in some form or fashion, but it’s Mike McKissick, one of our Board of Trustees, he sent me this video and just said, “Hey, you know what?  This is a really interesting tape.  It’s inspirational and you might want to check it out.”

So naturally I get something from one of my bosses, I promise you I’m going to definitely click on it so I can get back to him.

When I first saw it I was like, oh, man, this is probably just another video. But I clicked on it, and I’ll be honest with you, I could not turn it off.  I was absolutely mesmerized and had you don’t really know the story in the video.  All he talked about in that video was    I knew he was, you know, in the military and he was just looking for an opportunity to walk on and he was just kind of    he put together a tape showing how hard he had been training and working just to have a chance to chase his dream.  Somebody is going to have to give him a chance and then he had a little bit of his high school tape attached to it.

I just couldn’t turn it off and at the end he had his number on there and I just picked up the phone and called him. I said, man, I’m gonna call this guy.  I started looking at it, I said this guy is completely driven and motivated and what a good leader I could be and what perspective he could bring to our team.  I didn’t know anything about him, in the school or anything, Mike McKissick spurred that, so I called Daniel and he called me back within 10 minutes and we had a great conversation and he came down and we met, we visited, and then I started kind of pulling the curtain back further and just like, who is this guy?  I had no in idea about his Purple Heart and Bronze Star, he had just been on Dan Rather, and I didn’t know any of that.  But then I looked at his grades and they weren’t really good from high school, which is one of the reasons he ended up not going to college right out of high school.  He was an unfocused, teen, if you will, and now he’s a 25 year old grown man, but he had done a nice job in his community college.

So as we   the next person who is responsible for him being here is Stephanie Ellison because I had to go see him in our compliance and she was willing and our school was willing to write a waiver to the NCAA and make an appeal for a waiver because he was    it looked like he was going to be just a little short.

He had like Joe Biden as references, it was unbelievable. It was a situation where they decided to let him in, and he would have gotten in regardless, but it was a matter of whether he was going to be eligible for that first fall or not and the NCAA, and I will always be so appreciative of that, they allowed him to waiver and he was eligible right away.  Since he’s been at Clemson he’s going to graduate here in a few weeks in December, he’s made the All ACC Academic Team last year and I’m just really, really proud of what he’s done.  He has brought a perspective and a leadership to our locker room and to our practice field and to the bus rides and the movie theaters and all the hotels that most 18 22 years old just don’t have.  He never has a bad day.  None of us, we don’t know what a bad day is, but Daniel Rodriguez truly does.  He has lived life in a way that, again, is inspirational to so many.  Mike McKissick was the one that spurred it to me.

TIM SIMMONS:  Do we have any questions for the Coach, Coach Swinney?  If not, Coach, I guess the last question I have, I know Daniel is in the process of maybe having a movie.  Who is going to play you in the movie?

DABO SWINNEY:  That’s been a lot of discussion, a lot of debate, I’m pushing for Mark Wahlberg for D Rod, he’s short like Daniel, kinda got that look, I think he would be a good Daniel Rodriguez, and I think Matthew McConaughey would be a good Coach Swinney, he’s got a good swag factor to him.  I’m a little worried about that, so we will have to see but hopefully he will give me a little bit of a head’s up so I can prepare and I don’t have any doubt it will be an incredible movie.  Really neat for us here.  I think it’s going to maybe come out next fall and for us to have the opportunity to take our football team next year to see that movie, I’m hoping Daniel will maybe hook up a special viewing for us or something prior to coming out and then obviously his book and the movie, I’m sure will be based on the book, and I’m sure they’ll “Hollywood” it up, somehow, but amazing to be part of the journey and to see how it’s transpired and I could not be happier, and there is not a guy that deserve it more than Daniel Rodriguez.

TIM SIMMONS:  Coach, thank you very much.  I don’t know how the football playoffs are going to shake out but maybe Clemson will be in Arlington there because we will make the presentation to Daniel Tuesday, Jan 13th, the morning after the National Championship game there in Arlington.  Coach, thank you very much.  We appreciate your comments and especially on this special day as we honor the nation’s veterans, thank you very much.

DABO SWINNEY:  You’re welcome.  Here is Daniel.


DANIEL RODRIGUEZ, 2014 recipient of the Armed Forces Merit Award presented by the Football Writers Association of America:  Yes, sir.

TIM SIMMONS:  Thank you very much.  Brant and Kirk, did you want to say anything before we start with questions for Daniel?

BRANT RINGLER:  Thank you, Daniel for all that you’ve done not only for our country but obviously in response to this award what you have done for Clemson University and for your teammates.  You’ve given them a better perspective on life and you shared things with them that most 18 22 year old kids don’t get the opportunity to see in life.  You’ve made it better for them.  We appreciate you giving back to a sport that we love, college football, and we look forward to following your journey as it continues.

DANIEL RODRIGUEZ:  I appreciate that, thank you so much.

TIM SIMMONS:  Kirk, do you have anything to add?

KIRK BOHLS:  I would like to add my congratulations, Daniel.  You’re as deserving of a candidate as there was and I love watching your game day feature.  I look forward to the movie, like your Coach, and I hope you’re as great of a movie star as you are a role model.

DANIEL RODRIGUEZ:  I hope so, too.

TIM SIMMONS:  Daniel, again, thank you for taking the time here.  Obviously we had some good comments made about you.  Give us an opening comment, third time is the charm.  The first three years you were the runner up to Nate Boyer in 2012 and Brandon McCoy at North Texas in 2013 so third time is the charm.  And hopefully this is maybe the highlight of your senior season leading into a bowl game for Clemson.

DANIEL RODRIGUEZ:  You know, it’s an honor for you guys to recognize me and I’m so appreciative of the award and the opportunity to receive this.  Like you said, third time is the charm so I’ll take it.  When my number is called, I’ll be ready.  I couldn’t be more thankful to the Football Writers Association of America and Lockheed Martin, I thank you guys for this opportunity, and I’m very excited about it.

TIM SIMMONS:  Daniel, coming out of high school, the Coach mentioned your grades weren’t there, I think you were going through a tragic time your father had pass ad way and you entered the service.  Did you ever think that you would be playing college football at 26 years old?

DANIEL RODRIGUEZ:  It was always a dream of mine.  I thought that was going to kind of flush away when I joined the military, I didn’t think there was any kind of possibility, but, you know, toward the end of my service and I really got series about trying to go to school and holding out a promise that I had made to a friend.  It was one of those things I couldn’t pass up and I didn’t want to take “no” for an answer and I felt I had all the intangibles that could get me here.  During the low times of my life, leaving high school and going through the military, it wasn’t a thought but when I started thinking about it and pursuing it consistently I was pretty sure that I was going to play football somewhere.

TIM SIMMONS:  Daniel, have you had any interaction with the Board of Trustee there at Clemson, the gentleman that saw the “YouTube” and led to you getting on the football team?

DANIEL RODRIGUEZ:  I have.  We’ve met face to face and I have thanked him and other Board of Trustee members and others here at Clemson University that have welcomed me into the family and it’s been such a blessing to be here and be a part of this community and be here and call myself a Clemson Tiger.  I’m just so proud of representing the school and what they’ve done for me, and I hope to do the same once I leave and graduate and just be a representation of what this school has instilled in my value wise.  It’s been an awesome experience for me here and I’m just so thankful for it.

KIRK BOHLS:  Daniel, I wonder if your example    have you talked to other people in the military or have you had inquiries about people that didn’t really know that maybe this opportunity is out there for them, the college coaches would be willing to do this?  I’m sure, you know    I don’t know, I’m just wondering if you have talked to anybody or if that’s something that’s happened?

DANIEL RODRIGUEZ:  Talked to other veterans or?

  1. Other people in the has anyone ever said, hey, you did it, how do I do that?

DANIEL RODRIGUEZ:  I’ll put it this way:  When I first started going on this course and that “YouTube” video took off I had 6,000 e mails from veterans alone asking me what the process was, and to be honest with you, I didn’t know what the process was.  My process was wake up, work out, eat right, work out, you know do my homework, work out, you know, eat right, and hope for an opportunity.  I literally had my mind set on one thing and nobody was going to tell me differently.  I didn’t know where I was going to play but my mentality was walk on to some school that has a football team and be the best person in shape and the first person doing suicides and sprints and make a name for myself on special teams, and that’s what I told the guys when they contacted me.  It’s not a matter of the process, it’s how bad did you want it.  You’re always going to find an opportunity, you have to make the moment count and a lot of people sit back and wait for the opportunity and they don’t make it for themselves.  My mentality changed that I have to pursue that and make sure I don’t have any regrets down the road and saying man I wish I could have or should have and for me I just tell the guy’s listen, If you want it bad enough, you got at that take task risks, you have to have the kind of mind set that you will not be denied, and that’s what I did and that’s what I preached to people when they asked me how I got here.  I think most of the coaches around the country would be willing to give a veteran a chance.  I think they should owe it to them.  I don’t believe in handouts, but if you give a guy an opportunity and he makes the most of it, good for him.  If he can’t cut it, that’s the world we live in.  But I think that if you just have a mindset of not taking no for an answer, and having the right attitude and just being positive in everything you pursue, you’re capable of doing anything you need to.  That’s kind of what I did and that’s what I tell other people when they ask me.

KIRK BOHLS:  Daniel, I was curious how many other coaches reached out to you and I was curious what your total career plans are after this movie?

DANIEL RODRIGUEZ:  I think at the peak of the video I had been contacted by roughly about 120 schools from all across the country.  The very first school I will never forget was Lamar University out of Texas and I thought I had made it.  I was ready to pack my bags and something.  I didn’t know where Lamar was or anything like that but the video had succeeded and by the end of the day I had been contacted by schools in Alaska, Hawaii, and North Dakota, all across the board asking me to send them transcripts.  So there was a few and far in between but ultimately it was just when Coach Swinney contacted me I had this vivid memory, I never followed Clemson but they had beaten Auburn that season that had just passed, and I remember seeing him after the field screaming into the camera and being enthusiastic, and I remember watching that game thinking that would be a cool coach to play for, and when he gave me a call and sent me an email, I remember being in class, and just saying something clicked, that it just felt right, I had that image of him in my head, and I contacted him, took a visit and fell in love with Clemson, and knew I was going to be a Tiger regardless of how long it took me to get into the school or what the process had to be, I wanted to play for a coach like that.  And that’s what it  —  it felt good for me.  Now that I’m here, my plans afterwards, I’ll be graduating in December and I’ve been able to write a book that was a great process in doing and I’ve been blessed for the opportunity for the film rights, but ultimately what I’ve been driven to do is public speak, and that’s what I’m passionate about and I’ve signed with an agency, Creative Artists Agency, out of Los Angeles.  I will be speaking professionally on their circuit so I have events lined up for what I graduate and then it’s just an opportunity that I can go around, shed light on, and give back to veterans and other organizations that need a speaker, so that’s something that I will be doing right off the get go once I graduate.

KIRK BOHLS:  Terrific.

BRANT RINGLER:  The small caveat to this award is that you speak at next year’s luncheon for us, so thank you.

DANIEL RODRIGUEZ:  That’s fine with me.

TIM SIMMONS:  You’re talking about the 2015, 2016 season, right?


TIM SIMMONS:  And he’s going to follow who, Randy Wright, the ex-Cowboy this year?


TIM SIMMONS:  Daniel, we appreciate it very much.  We look forward to seeing you in January at the National or Collegiate Football playoffs and the breakfast afterwards.  Thank you very much for everyone we will have a transcript on the Armed Forces Bowl web site, and we will be sending it out to the folks at Clemson.  Thanks to Clemson for setting this up.  That concludes to your press conference, thank you very much.

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