September 2, 2013

SPRINT FOOTBALL | Rodriguez Puts the Team on His Back

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With sprint football less than two weeks away, the Red has taken to the practice field. Off to the side, away from the offensive and defensive units, the team’s leading scorer from 2012 quietly goes about his craft.  That player is John Rodriguez, the Red’s senior kicker. He’s the man who’s never missed an extra point, is shrouded in sprint football mystique, and is perhaps the team’s biggest mismatch on Friday nights.“He was phenomenal for us last year — kicking off and field goals,” co-head coach Bart Guccia said. “I believe he hit five field goals between 44-49 yards.” Guccia’s memory was sharp — Rodriguez hit four of his six attempts from 40+ en route to an All-CSFL First Team selection. In total, he nailed seven of 14 attempts in 2012, with two of those misses coming on blocks. The Red’s opposing kickers last season were a comparable 6/13, but none could manage a field goal beyond 39 yards.  “When you have a guy who can come in and hit a 50-yard field goal — put it through with five or ten yards to spare — that’s a pretty big weapon in this league,” senior quarterback Brendan Miller said. “ [H]e definitely kept us in a lot of games. He’s already the best player on our team but I expect him to get a lot more notoriety.”John Rodriguez has always had an affinity for kicking — he just did not realize it would be on the football field.“I [had] played soccer throughout my whole life and after my freshman year of high school my football coach, who I was pretty close with, just kind of recruited me from the soccer team to try out kicking,” Rodriguez said. “I’ve kicked ever since my sophomore year [of high school].”Rodriguez found his way to the Cornell sprint team after beginning his collegiate career as a preferred walk-on for the varsity team.“I saw an opportunity with the sprint team so I decided to join the sprint team my sophomore year,” he said. “It’s been a really nice transition from the varsity to the sprint team. The coaches and the teammates, it’s a great group that I really fit in with.” Although Rodriguez occasionally practices with the varsity team in the spring and has been “approached” by the team on at least one occasion, his focus remains on delivering a sprint title.“I feel like the team is looking to win every game and try to get that championship … Our motto is to get better each and every day,” Rodriguez said, with an emphasis on repetition and fundamentals.  “In a typical day I kick close to 40 balls between punts, field goals, kickoffs, depending on whatever we’re doing that day.”Between practice sessions, the North Olmsted, Ohio native has also been looking for help among the world’s best.“I’ve looked at a number of NFL kickers,” Rodriguez replied, when asked if there are any professionals that he’s tried to model his game after. “I think David Akers [Detroit Lions] is one — he’s left-footed as well. He’s a good one to follow after. As well as Phil Dawson [San Francisco 49ers] … I’ve been a real fan of his and have actually been able to meet him.”Rodriguez, in fact, had the dream opportunity of attending Phil Dawson’s kicking camp in northern Ohio when Dawson was still a member of the hometown Cleveland Browns.“Just the ability to work one-on-one with him was good,” Rodriguez said. “Having that professional opinion and so much experience he’s had in the NFL, he’s someone to trust … and someone you can rely on. I thought that was great, having seen me kick, and then giving me pointers and tips. That was really cool.”What more could, in the words of senior running back Nick Perez, a “rock solid” player like Rodriguez, who averaged 55.5 yards per kickoff last season, has established himself as one of the league’s elite talents, and who worked out with one of his NFL idols, achieve this season?  According to the lefty, a big focus will be contributing to the team dynamic.  “One thing I can improve upon is just, as a senior, providing leadership to the other young guys and supporting them,” Rodriguez said. “My overall goal is to help the team anyway I can, whether it be field goals, kickoffs, or punting.”Rodriguez hopes to build off his strong 2012 season, particularly his superstar performance against Franklin Pierce that featured a handful of stellar kickoffs and field goals of 39 and 49 yards which proved to be decisive in the Red’s 26-21 win.“He’s the best player on our team — the highest scorer on our team — pretty much every year he’s been on our team,” Miller said. “I probably have the highest expectations on the team for him given his incredible talent and what he’s been able to do. He’s kept us in numerous games. If we did not have him we would have lost or would have lost a good number of games.”John Rodriguez remains one of sprint football’s best under-the-radar performers, but that does not mean his teammates have forgotten him. And while the special x-factor will be contributing to Cornell’s championship chase in any way he can, there’s still one thing he’d like to do to finish his sprint career with a bang — if Coach Guccia allows the opportunity.  “I hope to hit one over 50 this year,” Rodriguez said. “I think having an individual part — being singled out — but also being part of the team is a unique position of the kicker. Having so much pressure on you, and then going out and performing. Taking that big kick is the best part of being a kicker.”

Original Author: Chris Mills

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