On Oct. 3, 2009, at the age of 20, Daniel was one of 53 Americans who battled insurgents in Afghanistan after nearly 400 Taliban attacked the American Combat Outpost Keating near the town of Kamdesh.
For more than 12 hours Daniel continued to fight with shrapnel embedded in his neck and leg and bullet fragments lodged in his shoulder. Eight U.S. soldiers were killed during the skirmish, including Daniel’s close friend, Kevin Thompson. Daniel was awarded a Purple Heart and Bronze Star Medal with a "V" Device for Valor.
Upon returning home from his tours of duty overseas, Daniel often found himself feeling unfocused and displaced amidst the normalcy of stateside life. As a result, he turned to drinking to calm his anxieties and soothe his mind. The darkness that accompanied his diagnosis of post-traumatic stress disorder made Daniel’s transition from combat to classroom difficult when he enrolled at Germanna Community College just three months after returning from Afghanistan.
Somehow Daniel dug deep and found a way to power through. The following year, Daniel returned to school with renewed determination. Having survived the wounds of war, both physical and emotional, he found himself at a crossroads. He could continue down a path of drinking and despair, or he could make the decision to turn his life around and focus on the future.
In a moment of clarity, Daniel remembered a promise he made to a close friend who had died in combat – that if he survived, he would go back and pursue his dream of playing college football. In order to get back to football, he formed a plan. He would focus on academics, transfer to a different school and walk on to the team of his dreams.
In addition, he self-produced a recruitment video that would ultimately flood the inboxes of hundreds of college football coaches after going viral on YouTube. Soon after, he got a call from Clemson University Head Coach Dabo Swinney, a conversation that would change Daniel’s life.
Swinney offered Rodriguez the opportunity to walk onto the team and take part in the preseason camp. He went on to play in 37 consecutive games for the Tigers, which led to a pre-season stint with the St. Louis Rams ... and the rest, as they say, is history.