Football dreams come full circle for Armed Forces Merit Award winner

Steven Rhodes claimed the Armed Forces Merit Award in 2016. The FWAA helps name the winner of the Merit Award along with the Lockheed Martin Armed Forces Bowl.

From Middle Tennessee Athletic Communications

MURFREESBORO, Tenn. Middle Tennessee defensive end Steven Rhodes’ incredible four-year journey will come full circle in the next week.

Armed Forces Merit Award winner Steven Rhodes, a former Marine and defensive end at Middle Tennessee State, is flanked by
Dr. Sidney A. McPhee, president of Middle Tennessee State (left) and Athletic Director Chris Massaro at the FWAA’s Awards Breakfast on Jan. 9, 2017, in Tampa.
Photo by Melissa Macatee.

The senior Marine veteran and Antioch, Tenn., native will accomplish what he calls “two of the biggest goals in my life” all in the span of eight days. He will graduate from college on Saturday with a bachelor’s degree in organizational communication and then attend rookie minicamp with his hometown Tennessee Titans from May 12-14.

“Finally my dream is starting to take place,” Rhodes said. “It’s something not everyone can say they’ve done, to graduate college and get a chance in the NFL. Especially not having any student loans, that’s even better.

“There’s nothing like playing the sport you love and playing for your hometown. I wouldn’t have it any other way, and I’m excited to be a Titan.”

It’s often said that students mold the person they will become during their four years at college, and especially during their freshman year. But, for Rhodes, that was a little different.
He wasn’t an 18-year-old kid moving away from home for the first time in his life when he stepped onto MT’s campus in 2013. He was a 25-year-old man who had spent the previous five years fighting for his country as a Marine.

“I think the biggest thing I learned [at college] was I can be pushed to new limits and pushed a lot further than I thought I could go,” Rhodes said. “It’s been a lot being a husband, a father, a full-time college student and a football player. It’s like having 10 jobs and it was very difficult, but it definitely helped mold me, and coming through those tough times made me a better man and a stronger man.”

Rhodes became a beloved member of the Murfreesboro community, being awarded the Daily News Journal Person of the Year award in 2013 during his freshman season for the Blue Raiders. He also became a consistent player on the field and got better each season.

He had never played defensive end before coming to MT, but improved with every game and every practice and capped his four years with a career season in 2016. He set personal highs in tackles (41), tackles for loss (8), quarterback hurries (7) and sacks (4.5), leading the team in the latter three statistics.
How Rhodes was able to focus on his craft as much as he was able to over his four years wasn’t just a credit to his own work ethic. It was a family affair.

He and his wife, Adrienne, have two children: Kameron, 5, and Devon, 4. It was their support and flexibility that helped their dad reach his ultimate dreams.

“My family is my support system, my backbone through all of this,” Rhodes said. “My wife was the one who encouraged me to keep going and never give up, and my two boys, my parents, my brother they all kept me going and kept me motivated and helped make this possible.”

As he prepares this week to showcase his talents in front of the Titans, Rhodes will take some time to reflect back on the special four years he’s had. But, sticking true to what he learned as a Marine, he knows there’s plenty of work to do in order to prove himself, and he’s too disciplined to take a break.

The Armed Forces Merit Award recipient also knows there are a lot of people from another family, his fellow veterans, who are inspired by his story, and he won’t let them down.

“It’s possible to achieve your dreams after active duty, and I’m glad I can show that,” Rhodes said. “It’s been an emotional rollercoaster … but everything worked out how it was supposed to.

“I’m just really excited and ready to get back to work and back to football.”

 

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Middle Tennessee State’s Steven Rhodes named fifth winner of Armed Forces Merit Award

Armed Forces Merit Award

Armed Forces Merit Award

FORT WORTH, Texas — U.S. Marine veteran Steven Rhodes, a senior defensive end at Middle Tennessee State University, is the fifth recipient of Armed Forces Merit Award presented by the Football Writers Association of America (FWAA).

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 within the realm of the sport of football.”

Brant Ringler, the executive director of the Lockheed Martin Armed Forces Bowl, and Steve Richardson, the FWAA’s executive director, announced here Friday that Rhodes, who will be 28 in 11 days, is the 2016 recipient.

Steven Rhodes

Steven Rhodes

A seven-person committee made up of FWAA members and Lockheed Martin Armed Forces Bowl officials selected Rhodes from a list of 16 nominations for the 2016 award.  Nate Boyer of the University of Texas was named the initial recipient of the award in 2012, followed by Brandon McCoy of the University of North Texas in 2013, Daniel Rodriguez from Clemson University in 2014 and Bret Robertson of Westminster College (Fulton, Mo.) in 2015.  All four individuals were U.S. Army veterans before playing college football.

“On this very special day, Veterans’ Day 2016, we are pleased to join with the Football Writers Association of America to name Steven Rhodes as the fifth recipient of the Armed Forces Merit Award,” said Ringler. “We had a list of 16 outstanding nominations for this year’s award and it is difficult to select only one each year when we have individuals and programs that are very deserving of the honor.”

Richardson echoed Ringler’s sentiments along with adding that the FWAA is “pleased to team with Lockheed Martin Armed Forces Bowl to recognize Rhodes’ achievement as a veteran who used his armed forces experiences to benefit his teammates and coaches at Middle Tennessee State University.  The FWAA also salutes the other 2016 nominations for their contributions on-and-off the field of play.”

Rhodes joined the Middle Tennessee football program after serving five years in the U.S. Marines.  Following his enrollment in 2013, the NCAA originally ruled that Rhodes only had two years of eligibility and would have to sit out the 2013 season since he played recreational football on base for a two-year period.

After Rhodes’ eligibility story went national on August 18, 2013, the next day the NCAA issued a statement saying Rhodes could play immediately and had four years of eligibility. Since the August 2013 ordeal, Rhodes has played in 47 games at Middle Tennessee with 27 career starts, including nine this fall for the 6-3 Blue Raiders.

A 6-foot-3, 260-pound defensive end and fourth oldest player in the Football Bowl Subdivision, Rhodes is the team’s eighth leading tackler with 29 total stops (18 unassisted), with 4.5 tackles for losses, 2.5 sacks, two pass deflections, five quarterback hurries, one forced fumble and one fumble recovery.  For his career, Rhodes has 98 total tackles (63 unassisted).

Following graduation in 2007 from Antioch (Tenn.) High School where he played football, Rhodes enlisted in the Marine Corps as a shoulder injury and financial issues initially kept him from attending college.  Rhodes’ “road” back to college football started three years ago when he was stationed at the Marine Corps Air Station in New River, N.C.  When he was moved to MCAS Miramar, Calif., he started for the Miramar Falcons in 2012.

Even though he only played one season, his Miramar coaches saw the potential he displayed and helped to make sure he reached his goal.  A former Falcon coach helped Rhodes film his games so he could send them to colleges.  With the film from the games, Rhodes was recruited by Middle Tennessee, the school he had planned on attending before sustaining his shoulder injury.

Rhodes credits the Marines for “his healthy perspective and mental toughness.  What the [Marines] do and what they stand for — honor, courage, commitment — it stands for every aspect of my life.”

Motivated by his family, Rhodes states that his wife (Adrienne, formerly in the Navy but now a stay-at-home mom who home schools their children) and two sons (Kameron and Devon) inspire him to excel on the football field and in the classroom.  Rhodes is pursuing a degree in Organized Communication.  Rhodes met his wife while he was in the Marines and she was in the Navy.

“It’s definitely tough,” Rhodes said. “It’s like having several fulltime jobs. I’m a husband first, then a father, then a student-athlete. My freshman year was the worst — just trying to make that adjustment. My wife and I have gotten on the same page. She’s made it as seamless and worry-free for me as possible. We’re moving toward a common goal. It was a tough ride, but I wouldn’t change any of it. It’s molded me into the man I am today.”

Middle Tennessee coach Rick Stockstill said Rhodes had leadership qualities as soon as he joined the team, but that it took a while for him to have a big effect on the team because he was only around his new teammates at practice.

“Just because you’re a leader in some other capacity, until you get to know people and people get to know you on a personal level, I think it takes a little bit of time,” Stockstill said. “When he was a freshman, everybody on the outside assumed he was going to be a great leader and all of that, which he was. But it didn’t impact the team because the team didn’t know him. Now, he’s established himself not only as a player but as a person, he’s one of our leaders.”

ESPN Events, a division of ESPN, owns and operates a large portfolio of collegiate sporting events worldwide. The roster includes three Labor Day weekend college football games; FCS opening-weekend game; 13 college bowl games, 11 college basketball events and two college award shows, which accounts for approximately 250-plus hours of programming, reaches almost 64 million viewers and attracts over 700,000 attendees each year. With satellite offices in Albuquerque, Birmingham, Boca Raton, Boise, Dallas-Fort Worth, Honolulu, Las Vegas, Montgomery and St. Petersburg, ESPN Events builds relationships with conferences, schools and local communities, as well as providing unique experiences for teams and fans.  ESPN Events also manages the Big 12 Corporate Partner Program.  Collegiate Football — AdvoCare Texas Kickoff (Houston); AdvoCare V100 Texas Bowl (Houston); Air Force Reserve Celebration Bowl (Atlanta); Birmingham Bowl (Alabama); Boca Raton Bowl (Florida); Camping World Kickoff (Orlando, Fla.); Famous Idaho Potato Bowl (Boise); Gildan New Mexico Bowl (Albuquerque); Hawai’i Bowl (Honolulu); Las Vegas Bowl (Nevada); Lockheed Martin Armed Forces Bowl (Dallas-Fort Worth); MEAC/SWAC Challenge (Baton Rouge, La.); Montgomery Kickoff Classic (Montgomery, Ala.); Popeyes Bahamas Bowl (Nassau); Raycom Media Camellia Bowl (Montgomery, Ala.); St. Petersburg Bowl (Florida); The Home Depot College Football Awards (Atlanta) and Zaxby’s Heart of Dallas Bowl (Dallas-Fort Worth).  Collegiate Basketball — AdvoCare Invitational (Walt Disney World Resort near Orlando, Fla.); College Basketball Awards Presented by Wendy’s (Los Angeles); Gildan Charleston Classic (South Carolina); Hawaiian Airlines Diamond Head Classic (Honolulu); Jimmy V Men’s  Classic presented by Corona (New York City); Jimmy V Women’s Classic presented by Corona (Uncasville, Conn.); NIT Season Tip-Off (Brooklyn, N.Y.); PK80 (Portland, Ore.); State Farm Armed Forces Classic (Honolulu); State Farm Champions Classic (New York City); Tire Pros Invitational (Orlando, Fla.) and Wooden Legacy (Orange County, Calif.).  For more information, visit the official website, Facebook, Twitter or YouTube pages.

The Football Writers Association of America (FWAA, http://www.sportswriters.net) consists of the men and women across North America who cover college football for a living.  Founded in 1941, the membership includes journalists, broadcasters and publicists, as well as key executives in all the areas that involve the game. The FWAA works to govern areas that include game day operations, major awards and an All-America team.  Through its website, the FWAA works to improve communication among all those who work within the game. The FWAA also sponsors scholarships for aspiring writers and an annual writing contest.  Behind the leadership of President Mark Anderson of the  Las Vegas Review-Journal, Executive Director Steve Richardson and a board of veteran journalists, the FWAA continues grow and work to help college football prosper at all levels. There are now over 1,300 members.

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Finalists for Armed Forces Merit Award revealed

armed forces merit awardFORT WORTH, Texas — Led by 2015 runner-up Steven Rhodes of Middle Tennessee State University, four individuals and the Kansas State football program have been named as finalists for the 2016 Armed Forces Merit Award presented by the Football Writers Association of America (FWAA).

Other finalists for the 2016 AFMA are Fran McMenamin, a Marine veteran playing  on the offensive line at East Stroudsburg University, Naval Academy outside linebacker coach and Marine Robert Green as well as Texas Tech strength and conditioning coach and Army veteran Rusty Whitt.

The partnership between the K-State football team and the 1st Armored Brigade Combat Team brought Soldiers and players together at Fort Riley June 17 for a joint physical readiness training event.  Kansas State has been involved with Fort Riley since 2008.

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.”

The award’s selection committee is made up of five FWAA members and two representatives from the Lockheed Martin Armed Forces Bowl.  The group reviewed 16 “candidates” for the 2016 honor where Rhodes, McMenamin, Green, Whitt and the K-State football program were confirmed finalists for the award.

Bret Robertson of Westminster College (Fulton, Mo.) was honored as the 2015 recipient of the Armed Forces Merit Award presented by the FWAA.  Rhodes, who was also considered for the Armed Forces Merit Award in 2013 and 2014, played in the 2013 Lockheed Martin Armed Forces Bowl

This year’s recipient will be announced this Veteran’s Day, Nov. 11.  The announcement of the 2016 recipient will be made jointly by Lockheed Martin Armed Forces Bowl Executive Director Brant Ringler and FWAA President Mark Anderson of the Las Vegas Review-Journal on an 11 a.m. (CT) teleconference.

Nate Boyer of the University of Texas was named the initial recipient of the award in 2012, Brandon McCoy of the University of North Texas topped the AFMA list in 2013 and Daniel Rodriguez from Clemson University was honored in 2014.

Photo gallery: FWAA Awards Breakfast

These photos were taken at the FWAA’s annual Awards Breakfast on Jan. 11 in Scottsdale, Ariz.  Winners of the 2015 Best Writing Contest as well as the Bert McGrane Award winner were honored, among others.

Photo gallery: FWAA annual meeting, breakfast

There photos by Melissa Macatee were shot at the FWAA’s annual meeting and breakfast on Tuesday Jan. 13, 2015, in Dallas.

Armed Forces Merit Award winners Rodriguez, Boyer in Dallas for championship game

Armed Forces Merit Award recipient headlines FWAA breakfast

DALLAS — With the collegiate football season concluding here Monday with the College Football Playoff’s National Championship game in nearby Arlington at AT&T Stadium, one of the final awards of the 2014 will be presented Tuesday to 27-year old Army veteran who played the past three seasons at Clemson University

Daniel Rodriguez will receive the 2014 Armed Forces Merit Award presented by the Football Writers Association of America at the writer’s group annual breakfast Tuesday (January 13) in the Landmark Ballroom at the Renaissance Dallas Hotel.  The 8 a.m. breakfast will be followed by the press conference with the winning coach and top players from Monday’s title game featuring the University of Oregon and The Ohio State University.

Brant Ringler, the executive director of the Lockheed Martin Armed Forces Bowl, and Kirk Bohls, the president of the FWAA, will present the award to Rodriguez, who was named the third recipient of the Armed Forces Merit Award this past November on Veteran’s Day.

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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.”

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Ex-Marine Everding selected 2014 Armed Forces Merit Award finalist

Armed Forces Merit Award

Armed Forces Merit Award

Fort Worth, Texas, November 5 – Ex-Marine Jason Everding of the University of the Incarnate Word has been announced as the second of two finalists for the 2014 Armed Forces Merit Award presented by the Football Writers Association of America (FWAA).

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.”

The award’s selection committee is made up of five FWAA members, including president Kirk Bohls of the Austin American Statesman, and two representatives from the Lockheed Martin Armed Forces Bowl.  The group reviewed 15 “candidates” for the 2014 honor where the 28-year old Everding joins 27-year old Army veteran Daniel Rodriguez of Clemson as finalists for the award.

Rodriguez, a wide receiver and special team performers for the past three seasons at Clemson, was announced last week as the first of two finalists for the 2014 Armed Forces Merit Award presented by the FWAA.  This year’s recipient being announced this Veteran’s Day, November 11.  Nate Boyer of the University of Texas was named the initial recipient of the award in 2012 with Brandon McCoy of the University of North Texas topping the AFMA list last year.

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Candidates for Armed Forces Merit Award announced

Armed Forces Merit Award

Armed Forces Merit Award

After gathering information and reviewing the credentials for the “record” nominations for this year’s Armed Forces Merit Award presented by the Football Writers Association of America, the selection committee reviewed 15 “candidates” for the 2014 honor to be announced this Veteran’s Day, November 11.

“We are very pleased with the list of nominations for the 2014 Armed Forces Merit Award presented by the FWAA,” said Brant Ringler, the executive director of the Lockheed Martin Armed Forces Bowl.  “The 2014 nominees feature active college players, administrations, coaches, officials and programs that are currently involved with college football.  Our goal is to recognize these individuals for their valuable service to our country before their current involvement with the sport.  Our first two recipients were outstanding individuals that served in the military before returning to school to earn their degrees while making an impact on their football teams.”

2014 Armed Forces Merit Award Nominees

College Player – Active

Jason Everding, Incarnate Word offensive lineman (U. S. Marines)

Nick Jones, UTEP tight end (U. S. Marines)

Kyle Loomis, Portland State punter (U. S. Army)

Tehuti Miles, Maryland wide receiver (U. S. Army)

A. J. Mobley, Florida wide receiver (U. S. Marines)

Lennie Richardson, Georgia Southern defensive end (U. S. Army)

Steven Rhodes, Middle Tennessee defensive end (U. S. Marines)

Daniel Rodriguez, Clemson wide receiver (U. S. Marines)

College Administration, Coaching Staff & Football Operations

Kent Baer, Colorado defensive coordinator

Dr. Hans J. Mueh, United States Air Force Academy Athletic Director

Nathan Peterson, Oklahoma State defensive graduate assistant (U. S. Marines)

College Football Officials – Active

Raymond Daniel (Mid-American Conference, Temple Hills, MD, Army National Guard)

Steve Thielen (Mid-American Conference, Eagan, MN, U. S. Army)

Programs

National Association of Collegiate Directors of Athletics – Wounded Warrior Project™

Kansas State Football Team & 1-28 Black Lions

Previous Winners

Nate Boyer, a long snapper for the University of Texas, was the first recipient in 2012 of the Armed Forces Merit Award presented by the FWAA.  A graduate student this season after serving actively in the U. S. Armed (2004-2009), Boyer is still competing for the Longhorns and was named to the 2014 Allstate AFCA Good Works Team and as a semifinalist for the 2014 William V. Campbell Trophy, which recognizes the best football scholar-athlete in the nation, in September.

Brandon McCoy, a defensive lineman at the University of North Texas, was 2013 Armed Forces Merit Award recipient.  After serving in the U. S. Army (2004-2009), McCoy played 44 games for the Mean Green during a four-season career as he helped guide the school to a win in the 2014 Heart of Dallas Bowl over UNLV.

 

 

FWAA taking nominations for Armed Forces Merit Award

armed forces merit awardWe are now taking nominations for the Armed Forces Merit Award. From those teams and conferences you cover please keep an eye out for the following:

WHO QUALIFIES?: An Individual with an armed forces background who is currently involved as an athletic administrator, football coach, staff member or player and has brought distinction and recognition to both his or her armed forces service and the sport. These include Individuals or groups that have created, developed or produced football-related programs that provide care, concern and support for past or present members of the United States armed forces or their families.

DEADLINE FOR SUBMISSION: Sept. 30, 2014

SELECTION PROCESS: A blue-ribbon committee will take the nominations and select a winner during the fall.

Send nominations to FWAA Member Tim Simmons at bfishinc@aol.com or call 720-244-6580.