In the heart of Clayton County, Georgia, a young fella by the name of Chris Rodriguez Jr. made a name for himself on the football field at an early age. Known as ‘the man-child’ due to his superior skills, Rodriguez was a force to be reckoned with. His journey from the fields of Panhandle Park to the practice facilities at Ashburn is a testament to his talent, determination, and the powerful influence of his late mother, Stephanie Thornton, who passed away from complications of lupus at the age of 42.
Chris Rodriguez Jr. went beast mode 😳 pic.twitter.com/8IJJsGumOA— SEC Network (@SECNetwork) September 4, 2021
Rodriguez’s prowess on the football field was evident from an early age. His former Kentucky teammate Jamin Davis recalls him as ‘the bowling ball,’ a testament to his formidable strength and power. This power was so great that another teammate, Jacquez Jones, confessed to having been sidelined with a concussion after attempting to tackle Rodriguez.
Jones told local media in Kentucky last year, “I ended up with a concussion. That’s probably the first concussion I ever had because I ran into a knee. I laid down on the sideline, and I didn’t know where I was at. I didn’t know C-Rod was that powerful, so it kind of caught me off guard.”
This Mission Was Not Just About Football
His college offensive coordinator, Liam Coen, described Rodriguez as ‘a man on a mission,’ a phrase that encapsulates his relentless drive and ambition. This mission was not just about football. Rodriguez has made it his mission to honor his mother at almost every opportunity, raising money and awareness for the Lupus Foundation of America at the NFL Combine and wearing purple — her favorite color and the color for lupus awareness — at the Senior Bowl. He even had custom shoes painted with his mother’s image that he showed off during the draft.
Rodriguez said, “Sometimes, if I’m laying there and I’m not keeping busy, I just start to think of her, think of her voice, think of her face. My mom, she used to call me every day at school. Didn’t want anything. She’d say, ‘I’m just trying to aggravate you.’ You miss those small moments.”
Rodriguez’s journey to the NFL was not without its challenges. He played for three offensive coordinators at Kentucky, and over his past four years (he redshirted in 2018), he averaged 3.97 yards after contact per rush, which ranked seventh among qualified FBS players in that span. He also converted 66 percent of his third-down rushes, which ranked sixth. Robinson (79.5 percent) sits at the top of that list.
Chris Rodriguez Jr. ran over Yasir Abdullah. pic.twitter.com/4U7DT99r1Q— Tyler Greever (@Tyler_Greever) November 28, 2021
His past two seasons in Kentucky’s pro-style offense, which featured concepts from Sean McVay’s and Kyle Shanahan’s systems, perhaps offered the best glimpse of how his skill set may translate to Eric Bieniemy’s West Coast attack in Washington.
Chris Rodriguez Jr
In terms of playing time, Rodriguez faces an uphill battle joining a running back room that’s already deep with Antonio Gibson, Brian Robinson, and Jonathan Williams. He’ll have to make the most out of the attempts he gets in the preseason. One thing’s for sure; he’s already got the coaching staff’s attention.
Commanders Coach Ron Rivera said of Rodriguez after the draft, “In Eric’s mind, this is a guy that will fit what he wants. We’re pretty excited about being able to pick him.”
As Rodriguez begins his professional career with the Commanders, he carries with him the memory of his mother and the lessons she taught him. His journey is a testament to the power of determination, the importance of family, and the enduring influence of a mother’s love.