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War hero to NFL player: Stafford native using unique story to inspire youth

Posted at 8:33 PM, Jul 07, 2017
and last updated 2017-07-11 17:04:43-04

FREDERICKSBURG, Va. — Stafford County native Daniel Rodriguez is only 29 years old, but he has already captured the hearts of the country with his unique and inspirational story.

Rodriguez is a Purple Heart and Bronze Star recipient who also fulfilled his dreams of playing college football at Clemson University, then in the NFL.

The former St. Louis Rams wide receiver is now using his platform to inspire and help children in his hometown and surrounding areas of Central Virginia.

Rodriguez is returning to Fredericksburg to host his first annual Stay Driven football camp on July 17, 18, and 19.

Daniel Rodriguez during the game at Memorial Stadium on November 22, 2014 in Clemson, South Carolina. (Photo by Tyler Smith/Getty Images)

The camp is for all youth football players, but free for children from active-duty military families. Something that is near and dear to his heart.

“I want them to know that I have their back,” said Rodriguez. “I didn’t come from much, there were many camps that I couldn’t afford to go to.”

Rodriguez joined the Army in 2006 to honor is father, a military veteran, who died from a massive heart attack just days before his high school graduation. He served approximately 18 months in Iraq and one year in Afghanistan.

On October 3, 2009, Rodriguez was involved in the Battle of Kamdesh in Afghanistan, when 300 Taliban insurgents battled with 38 U.S. troops. Eight Americans were killed and 22 others were injured, including Rodriguez. His heroics during the battle earned him a Purple Heart and the Bronze Star Medal.

Like many other veterans, Rodriguez found life after combat difficult and even turned to alcohol, in addition to being diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder.

He said everything changed one day when his perspective about life changed.

Daniel Rodriguez #83 of the Clemson Tigers (Photo by Tyler Smith/Getty Images)

“Belief and learning how to belief in yourself. It clicked one day that I was making a lot of excuses in my life,” he explained.

Rodriguez said that belief and a promise made to a friend killed in combat, was all he needed to get back on the right track. Rodriguez promised that he would live out his dream and play college football, and that’s exactly what he did.

“I thought about my friends who died. I thought to myself, I have to do better with my life,” he recalled.

While attending a community college without a football program, Rodriguez made a recruitment video, telling his story, working out and catching passes. The video was posted on YouTube and quickly went viral, catching the eye of Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney.

At the age of 24, Rodriguez left home and headed to Clemson to play football as a walk-on.

After playing 37 consecutive games for the Tigers, Rodriguez graduated in December 2014. He even had the opportunity to play in the NFL with the St. Louis Rams.

Rodriguez is now trying to spread that wealth of knowledge and experience with his campers.

Daniel Rodriguez #83 of the Clemson Tigers (Photo by Tyler Smith/Getty Images)

“I feel like I have a different story to tell,” he said. “You always dream of this moment to give back to the community where you were raised.”

The camp was organized by Rodriguez and Sean Labar, who is a Fredericksburg native. The pair were introduced through Swinney, Rodriguez​’ head coach at Clemson.

Labar, who is also the son of a military man, said he came up with the idea after some in depth conversations with Rodriguez.

“I think I’ve always had the military in my blood, I’ve always understood the sacrifices they make for our country,” he said. “When I met Daniel, it was a no brainier.”

Labar said the entire process has been very rewarding.

“What was important to me was doing this for the Fredericksburg kids,” said Labar. “He (Rodriguez) has gifts and talents so unique. Fredericksburg needs something like that.”

The youth camp is unlike most football camps as it will combine two things Rodriguez is very familiar with, military-style training and football skills.

The decorated war hero will also use the opportunity to mentor the young campers and share his message of resiliency and to always believe in yourself.

“Never give up,” he said.

In fact, that’s how he came up with the name “Stay Driven” for the football camp.

“It’s the daily mentality that I have been living with for some time now,” Rodriguez added.

Now a New York Times best-selling author, Rodriguez is a motivational speaker and spends some of his time speaking to colleges, professional sports teams. He is also involved in business and some film projects.

The Stay Driven football camp will be held at the Fredericksburg Fieldhouse on July 17 through 19. The camp is for boys and girls ages 8-17. No pads or equipment is required to register.

If you would like to register, click here. There is limited availability. If you are an active-duty service member, email to receive free admission for your child.