I know the world moves fast in the Internet age, but I had no idea it moved this fast. Yesterday, Washingtonian.com published a column of mine chronicling the story of 23-year-old army veteran Daniel Rodriguez. If you haven’t read it, my desire for you to do so now goes far beyond self-interest.
To summarize: Daniel was a captain and three-year starter at Brooke Pointe High School in Stafford, Virginia, and led his team to a district championship in his senior season. Because of a series of personal hardships, including the death of his father, Daniel did not go directly to college. Instead, he enlisted in the army, serving two 12-month combat tours—one in Iraq and one in Afghanistan. On October 3, 2009, Rodriguez and his unit were at the center of one of the bloodiest showdowns of the entire war. The Battle of Kamdesh unfolded in the eastern mountains of Afghanistan and saw a force of roughly 300 Taliban soldiers ambush an American force one-fifth its size. The American force suffered eight deaths; the Taliban lost 150. Daniel was wounded. He caught shrapnel in his legs and neck and took a bullet fragment through his shoulder. He received the Bronze Star for valor for his acts during that battle, which, according to accounts, include him running 300 meters under heavy fire to take the place of a fallen soldier. Daniel was treated for his wounds in-country and completed his 12-month tour. He is home now, and is taking advantage of the GI Bill by attending school at Germanna Community College in Fredericksburg. He wants to transfer to a four-year institution and resume his football career—and his dream is to do it at Virginia Tech.
With this dream in mind, a friend of Daniel’s produced a video for him. The video contains a combination of highlights from his high school career interspersed with photos and clips from his service in the two wars, plus current-day video of Daniel going through mind-numbing workouts to get himself ready for football. The video is beyond inspirational, and I urge you to watch it on YouTube. I promise it's worth seven minutes of your time.
On Tuesday, after I finished writing the story about Daniel and submitted it to the Washingtonian editors, I also sent a copy to the sports information staff at Virginia Tech. I asked them to forward it to Coach Frank Beamer, knowing full well they wouldn’t. I knew they wouldn’t do it—not because they’re jerks, but because Beamer is getting ready to play Michigan in the Sugar Bowl next week and they wouldn’t dare distract him with some random story from a magazine in DC. But to their abiding credit, they actually did.
Apparently, the staffers at Virginia Tech felt as I do: that Daniel is a remarkable individual, who deserves at the very least to have his story heard by the man who has the power to make his dream come true. So they gave the article and a link to the video to Beamer. Whether he would actually read the former and watch the latter was still a matter of significant doubt. He did both. And then he sent me an e-mail.
“Brett, I watched the video on Daniel—very impressive! I plan to contact Daniel after our bowl game in January. I hope this story can work out for everyone. Best Wishes! Frank Beamer.”
I honestly didn’t see that coming.
I received a second e-mail from Virginia Tech assistant athletic director Dave Smith. This one added some context and even further hope that Daniel was going to get a serious look from the Hokies.
“Brett: mission accomplished. I forwarded the information you sent to Coach Beamer, and it certainly captured his attention. I think trying to make something work with Daniel is going to be one of Coach’s priorities when the team returns from New Orleans. Thanks for contacting us about this special young man.”
Since my piece about Daniel went live on the Washingtonian’s Web site yesterday, his video has received more than 11,000 hits on YouTube. I forwarded this information, along with the Virginia Tech e-mails, to Daniel this morning. Then I called him to get his reaction. He was floored. “I couldn’t stop smiling. It was unreal. I was humbled. The idea that he [Coach Beamer] would take the time meant a lot. My goal has been to get noticed and for someone to give me a chance. This is a really a dream come true.”
Not quite. But he’s getting closer.
Author’s Note: We will continue to follow Daniel’s story as he pursues his dream of playing college football.