Army linebacker Andrew Rodriguez was down but not out
Gen. David M. Rodriguez was at peace, too, at least to the extent possible in Afghanistan, where he served as commander of International Security Assistance Force Joint Command when word of Andrew’s injury arrived.
Gen. Rodriguez played defensive end before graduating from West Point in 1976. He didn’t steer Andrew or his sister Amy to the academy, leaving the decision up to them. “I only answered questions,” he said. But there were few answers to the myriad questions about Andrew after a diagnosis of two herniated discs and a case of congenital spinal stenosis.
“I got notes and emails from doctors, my wife and Andrew,” Gen. Rodriguez said. “We talked. I was about as informed as I could be from a deployed situation.” He and his wife shared the same concerns, though not the same best-case scenario.
Hers didn’t include football, while his did.
“I wanted him to be able to do everything, like any parent would,” Gen. Rodriguez said. “I wanted him to get well enough to be commissioned first, which was his goal. I was hoping and praying he kept working and worked through it, because the body is a pretty amazing piece of equipment with the mind, and it does some crazy things.”
Rodriguez was injured in May 2010, but he didn’t know it was serious, certainly not grave enough to threaten the upcoming season. But after various treatments failed, he underwent a surgical procedure that September and returned to West Point.
He maintained a constant presence around the football team even though he couldn’t suit up. He went to practices and shared his knowledge with fellow linebackers. He helped bridge the inevitable communication gaps that surface between players and coaches.
“He was always trying to find a way to contribute,” Ellerson said. “He was with us more than in spirit. He was there. He was an asset during that time, but it was also an opportunity for him to step away and realize how much it meant to him.”
Rodriguez slowly was coming to grips with missing the season, though he didn’t anticipate problems handling the physical demands of life as a cadet. However, the first surgery didn’t alleviate the problem, so he underwent another procedure in December. That time he had to go home to convalesce, taking a medical leave of absence from the academy.
“He was basically lying on the floor every day,” Mrs. Rodriguez said. “He did schoolwork and took tests online. He did physical therapy. There were times when he was discouraged and times when I was discouraged. I was more concerned that he was going to be disappointed that he wouldn’t be able to go back to school.”
Rodriguez returned to West Point and joined the team in the summer with training camp in progress. He was cleared to resume limited activities, but his ability to play remained uncertain for weeks.
“We really took baby steps,” said Ellerson, who issued Andrew a blue, “no-contact” jersey for practices. “We did not jump in with both feet. We’d do a little bit, back off and assess. Do a little more, then assess where we were. I’m thrilled that he’s been able to contribute.”
“It’s one thing to come back and play your senior season,” Erzinger said. “It’s another to be able to pick your kids up and play with them when you’re 40. That was the big thing I stressed to him.”
Rodriguez was cleared for full contact in August, not long before the season-opening game at Northern Illinois. The hardest adjustment was getting back into football shape, recovering his speed and his ability to see the field and apply his technique. It took a few games before he felt all the way back.