- - Thursday, December 8, 2011

Life at the U.S. Military Academy couldn’t have been much better for linebacker Andrew Rodriguez as a sophomore in 2009.

He was a starter in all 12 games and led Army with 85 tackles. He excelled in the classroom, en route to a 4.14 grade-point average. His father and a sister, both West Point graduates, stayed safe through deployments and the possibility of deployments.

The Black Knights struggled on the field that year, coach Rich Ellerson’s first, going 5-7 and more importantly losing their eighth consecutive game against Navy. But Rodriguez, an Arlington native and Bishop Ireton High School graduate, was one of the team’s bright spots. Heading into his junior year, his prospects and the team outlook were promising.

Then a routine weightlifting session led to a back injury, wiping out his 2010 season and jeopardizing his 2011 season.

Worse than perhaps never playing again, graduating from West Point came into serious doubt.

'A LONG PROCESS' PAYS OFF: Andrew Rodriguez (42) was elected captain of the Black Knights for this season despite missing all of last year with a back injury. "I took it as an honor," he said. "I think they saw just how much playing football for Army meant to me."
‘A LONG PROCESS’ PAYS OFF: Andrew Rodriguez (42) was elected captain of ... more >

“At that point, he and his family and everyone just wanted to make sure he was going to be healthy at some point in time,” Ellerson said last week at a news conference for Saturday’s game against service academy archrival Navy at FedEx Field. “Whether or not that meant playing football again, frankly, I didn’t think so.”

More football was out of the question if you asked Gloria Rodriguez. She was concerned solely with the rest of her son’s life.

“He could still be a good student and do other things,” she said in a phone interview. “I talked to him a few times about it and said think about other options. I wanted him to have a Plan B if Plan A didn’t go through.”

That wasn’t necessary.

Much to everyone’s surprise, Rodriguez returned to the football field this year after missing all of last season.

He has been a starter in every game except the first one. He ranks third on the team with 55 tackles. He hit the books well enough to win the William V. Campbell Trophy, awarded annually by the National Football Foundation to the nation’s top football scholar-athlete.

Rodriguez is the first Army player to win the honor and the first service academy player to win it since Air Force’s Chris Howard won the inaugural trophy in 1990.

Not bad for a 21-year-old who nearly lost two loves of his life - football and the military academy.

“I was pretty down about missing my junior season,” Rodriguez said. “And the chance of never doing it again made me pretty upset. I felt like I’d do the best I can, and if I couldn’t play again, then it wasn’t meant to be.

“I thought a lot about it - especially the risk of hurting my chance of joining the military and doing my job out there. It was a big decision. But I’m pretty much at peace with what I decided.”

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