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Nikolas: Rodriguez: Walk-on halfback refuses to let injuries stand in his way

Alex Barker | Friday, November 21, 2008

It isn’t easy walking on to one of the most storied programs in all of college football. Throw an injury into the mix and that task almost becomes downright impossible.

Nikolas Rodriguez found that out the hard way his freshman year after a severe hamstring injury left him unable to finish walk-on tryouts at spring practice.

“I made it all the way through the tryouts before I got injured,” Rodriguez said. “But since I couldn’t play spring ball, they didn’t know if I could really play and they had to let me go.”

Coming off injury and with the odds already stacked against him, giving up and going the Interhall route seemed to be a more likely scenario. But that option just wasn’t in the playbook for this San Antonio, Texas native.

“I just couldn’t see myself being done with football. After going through a lot of rehab, it took nearly 11 months for me to get back to full speed,” Rodriguez said. “When the next year’s tryouts came up, I was just starting to get back into shape. I told myself that this is what I wanted to do and I went out and gave it another shot.”

The second time went according to plan for Rodriguez who successfully made the Irish squad as a running back.

“The whole thing was definitely a trying experience for me,” he said. “But I wouldn’t have traded it for the world.”

Things didn’t get any easier once he joined the team. During spring practice earlier this year, Rodriguez suffered another injury that threatened to end his final season with the Irish before it even got started.

Rodriguez suffered a torn rotator cuff that normally requires season-ending surgery to fix.

But much like before, calling it quits just never seemed to be a viable option for Rodriguez. He elected to play through it.

“The doctor told me my shoulder was going to require surgery at some point,” Rodriguez said. “But the surgery would have prevented me from playing this season and I didn’t want that to happen. It’s painful to play with, but it’s not like it’s going to get any worse.”

Heading into his last home game as a player at Notre Dame, Rodriguez still isn’t sure how he’ll feel when he takes the field at Notre Dame Stadium for the final time.

“It hasn’t fully hit me yet. It’s hard to believe my athletic career is about to come to an end,” he said. “I’m just going to have to take it all in and hopefully this last month of the season and the bowl game will be a memorable experience.”

Although the past few seasons have not been ideal for the Irish, Rodriguez has one memory that he won’t soon be forgetting.

“This may sound a little cliché, but I won’t ever forget the feeling I had the first time I walked out of the tunnel,” he said. “My mom was in the crowd too so it was even better to be able to share that experience with her.”

As for the future, Rodriguez hopes to get a job in advertising before returning to school to get his MBA. Rodriguez attributes what he learned on the field at Notre Dame as helping prepare him for what is to come after football.

“It has certainly improved my time management,” he said. “Having to deal with school and then football on top of that is pretty stressful. But when I have to prioritize my things at work, I think I will be prepared.”

Rodriguez also said that playing under Charlie Weis taught him some things that he would not have learned playing in another program.

“Since [Weis] comes from the professional ranks, he expects us to be more mature than your average program,” he said. “It’s a good thing because he treats us like grown men and that helps you grow up faster and know what to expect when you get out in the real world. He’s a professional and expects you to always give your best effort.”

Rodriguez doesn’t take for granted the opportunity he enjoyed representing the Irish as a member of the football team.

“It’s definitely an honor to be a part of this team,” he said. “There a ton of people who would do anything to be in the position that I was in, to play football for Notre Dame. This is the top program in the history of college football and it was truly special to be a part of this great tradition.”