WEST POINT – A week ago, returning from a media event in Washington to promote the Army – Navy game, Rich Ellerson and some of his players had an hour to kill at the airport. One of his players is grabbing a bite to eat. Still another is watching the news. Andrew Rodriguez had other plans.
“A-Rod goes over there and finds a cubicle and takes out his calculator and starts doing stuff,” Ellerson said. “I see if I can give him a little hand with homework, and I see the first four words and the question and I know I can’t help him. Maybe I can get him something. He’s looking at me like, ‘Would you leave me alone.’ Who’s that organized? Who’s that efficient with their time? It’s incredible.”
And the Army head coach wasn’t the only person to notice, as the National Football Foundation announced Rodriguez has won the William V. Campbell Trophy, which is awarded annually to the nation’s top football scholar-athlete. Rodriguez is the first Army player to win the honor, widely recognized as the top academic honor in college football. He is the first service academy player to win the award since Air Force’s Chris Howard, in 1990.
“We all see great thing in his future. He’s a special dude,” Ellerson said.
A spinal condition that required surgery caused Rodriguez to miss the entire season as a junior last year. There was even speculation the problem may have forced him to leave the academy. He did need to take a semester off, thus making it likely he’d be unable to graduate until December of next year. Instead, he took classes while recovering in bed. Ultimately, it was his desire to return to football, and before he was even given clearance to play this season, his teammates voted him a team captain.
“When we sat down to elect captains before training camp started, with his future very much in doubt, he was almost unanimously chosen to be that guy who they wanted to lead them through the season along with Max [Jenkins] and Steven [Erzinger],” Ellerson said. “I think that speaks volumes about his presence within that group. That’s not an average group of guys. It’s an extraordinary group of young men, all of them leaders in their own right, recognizing this extraordinary individual that’s in their midst.”
Ellerson didn’t push Rodriguez in practice, and he didn’t start until the second game of the season. He hasn’t left since. Heading into Army’s game against Navy Saturday the senior linebacker leads the Black Knights in fumble recoveries and pass breakups; his 55 tackles are third on the team.
Even more incredibly, Rodriguez has a 4.14 grade-point average. The mechanical engineering major was a 2009 and 2011 CoSIDA Academic All-District I selection and has been on the dean’s list five times. He is ranked third in West Point’s Class of 2012.
“I think his story is really remarkable,” Ellerson said, “when you consider he was a starter as a sophomore, hurt his back at the end of that year, tried to get right throughout the spring, set it back during the summer, had to watch his junior year, was there every day, was trying to be involved, was trying to get well, sat in the press box during the games, did anything he could to find a way to contribute, ended up having to have surgery, did a miss-term, took some classes from his bed trying to get well during the spring.”
Named in honor of Bill Campbell, a former player and head coach at Columbia University and the 2004 recipient of the NFF’s Gold Medal, the award comes with a 25-pound bronze trophy and a total post-graduate scholarship of $25,000.
Rodriguez was chosen from 16 finalists, all of whom earned National Football Foundation Scholar-Athlete status. The group was nominated by their schools, which are limited to one nominee each. Candidates must be a senior or graduate student in their final year of eligibility; have a grade point average of at least 3.2 on a 4.0 scale; have outstanding football ability as a first-team player; and have demonstrated strong leadership and citizenship. The scholar-athlete class is selected each year by the NFF Awards Committee, which is comprised of a nationally recognized group of media, College Football Hall of Famers and athletics administrators.
The other members of this year’s scholar-athlete class include Drew Butler (Georgia); Kirk Cousins (Michigan State); Micha Davis (Delta State); John Dowd (Navy); Yaser Elqutub (Northwestern State); Chris Ganious (South Dakota); Clay Garcia (Colorado School of Mines); Chandler Harnish (Northern Illinois); Tysyn Hartman (Kansas State); Chaz Hine (South Florida); Joe Holland (Purdue); Jared Karstetter (Washington State); Ryan Tannehill (Texas A&M); Patrick Witt (Yale); and Michael Zweifel (University of Dubuque). Each scholar-athlete earned an $18,000 post-graduate scholarship.
Rodriguez is no stranger to National Football Foundation awards. He was named the organization’s East Region High School Scholar-Athlete of the Year following his senior year in high school. Rodriguez is only the fifth person ever to earn the high-school honor and repeat as a college scholar-athlete. His military background runs in the family. His father, David, is the commanding general for U.S. Army Forces Command.
The Campbell Trophy, first awarded in 1990, has previously honored two Rhodes Scholars, a Rhodes Scholar finalist, two Heisman Trophy winners and five first-round NFL draft picks. The past recipients of the Campbell Trophy include: Howard (1990); Florida’s Brad Culpepper (1991); Colorado’s Jim Hansen (1992); Virginia’s Thomas Burns (1993); Nebraska’s Rob Zatechka (1994); Ohio State’s Bobby Hoying (1995); Florida’s Danny Wuerffel (1996); Tennessee’s Peyton Manning (1997); Georgia’s Matt Stinchcomb (1998); Marshall’s Chad Pennington (1999); Nebraska’s Kyle Vanden Bosch (2000); Miami’s (Fla.) Joaquin Gonzalez (2001); Washington University in St. Louis’ Brandon Roberts (2002); Ohio State’s Craig Krenzel (2003); Tennessee’s Michael Munoz (2004); LSU’s Rudy Niswanger (2005); Rutgers’ Brian Leonard (2006); Texas’ Dallas Griffin (2007); Cal’s Alex Mack (2008); Florida’s Tim Tebow (2009); and Texas’ Sam Acho (2010).