By Anna Poulter-Hendrickson
Special to GoHolyCross.com
Senior linebacker Marcus Rodriguez knows football, especially Holy Cross football. He considers tough practices and a grueling academic regime normal, and feels right at home at Fitton Field. But that was not always the case. Rodriguez's career started out rough and grew into a success story of how hard work and determination can pay off. As a freshman he saw limited time on the field, but returned his sophomore season to lead the team in tackles, and by his junior year he played in every game for the Crusaders.
To begin his collegiate career, life at a new school, in a new state and in a new time zone had the makings to be tough. A Peoria, Ariz., native, Rodriguez traveled halfway across the country to be a member of the Holy Cross football team. It was a hard transition and huge change, and Rodriguez was slow to adjust. "It was a big change. Initially I had never been academically challenged this hard in my life," said Rodriguez. "It was a shock." Holy Cross football got him through it. "I always knew there was someone to go to, athletes and coaches," recalls Rodriguez. "There were a large number of people who I could lean on. It got me through my first semester."
In his first season on the field for Holy Cross, Rodriguez saw action in just two games and recorded one tackle. "I knew I was capable of performing better my freshman year," said Rodriguez. "With a better knowledge of the playbook and longer adjustment period, I believe I would have been capable of providing more for the team." Rodriguez survived that first semester at Holy Cross, and his limited playing time did not deter him - in fact it inspired him to get better. That summer Rodriguez went home to Arizona to train and prepare himself for his sophomore year. "The first year the coaches didn't know if I would go home and prepare over the summer like I should, but I did and that showed my sophomore year," remarks Rodriguez.
When he returned to campus in the fall of his sophomore year, things were much better. "First semester freshman year, mentally I wasn't there," remembers Rodriguez. "Sophomore year I felt like I was coming home." Rodriguez returned to a team that was looking to improve on a 7-4 record in 2006 and had a shot at a Patriot League championship. "School wasn't as big of an issue. I knew it was going to be hard, I knew what to expect." Rodriguez started in nine games for the Crusaders in 2007 and helped the team to another 7-4 record, but not a Patriot League title. Rodriguez finished the season with a team leading 69 tackles, including 51 solo stops and two for a loss. "It was exciting to get the opportunity to show what I was capable of doing."
Rodriguez returned to the gridiron in 2008 with the same dedication and determination as before. He returned to the field bigger and stronger than ever, finally reaching a playing weight of 228 pounds. "I was underweight for the linebacker position sophomore year, and a couple injuries held me up," said Rodriguez. "Junior year I was stronger and at a better weight." The Crusaders started off slow with two season opening losses, yet Rodriguez was optimistic. "I thought 2008 was going to be the year to win the Patriot League championship." But the Crusaders came up short again, finishing the season with another 7-4 record and no title.
This season is different. Rodriguez can feel it. "I have never been more excited about a single season than this year," remarks Rodriguez. There is a change in the air, and a positive vibe on the field. "We got new uniforms, new coaches and a new turf practice field," exclaimed Rodriguez. "We don't have to practice on frozen Astroturf!" They are all subtle changes, but Rodriguez is hoping those changes will put the Crusaders over the edge. "Things are falling into place to make this a great year and it is the little things that contribute to the overall success of the program." Those little things are what Rodriguez is determined to do to take the team to the next level.
Rodriguez is going to take to the field this year with a mission, "Our goal is to win the Patriot League championship," said Rodriguez. When the time comes to take Fitton Field and face Colgate again, Rodriguez will be ready. "When we get there, we will have to face that demon," comments Rodriguez about playing the 2008 Patriot League champion. Until then, he knows that it will not be easy and that as a senior it is time for him to help lead the team toward the goal of a championship title. "I want to be a leader, be seen as a leader on the team and contribute the most I can." An All-Patriot League selection in 2008, Rodriguez is looking to improve on his 68 tackles a year ago. "I want to be seen as the defensive player that makes the defense so good." A goal that is obtainable, as Rodriguez ranks second on the team with 12 tackles in the first two games of the season.
Rodriguez's career at Holy Cross can serve as an inspiration for all younger Crusaders, especially those who have traveled far to be a member of the team. "I know how hard it can get and will get," recalled Rodriguez. "I want to reach out to freshmen to let them know that they are not the only ones who have gone through it." The daily toll of practice, workouts and classes did not break Rodriguez. In fact, the experiences he had as a freshman made him a better player. Being a member of the football team helped Rodriguez, as coaches and teammates served as support when things got tough. "Coaches stepped in and teammates became brothers." Now it is Rodriguez's time to play that role. "It gets to be that time when school work stacks up and we get into game week. We have to let them know this is normal." No matter how Rodriguez defines normal, it is now his job to help newcomers feel at home at Holy Cross.
The future is wide open for Rodriguez. He has dreams of traveling abroad. "Football Europe would be a way to keep playing football and to get to travel," said Rodriguez. Or he might return home to a younger brother and a career as a firefighter. When his brother saw the great experience Rodriguez was having as a member of the Holy Cross football team, he was inspired to play football in college and in turn inspired Rodriguez to consider a career as a firefighter. "I inspired my brother to play football in college and he inspired me to want to serve as a firefighter." No matter what happens in the future for Rodriguez, his experiences as a Crusader will live with him forever and he will forever feel at home at Fitton Field.
This story originally appeared in the September 19 edition of the Holy Cross Game Day Program, for the contest between the Crusaders and Harvard. To order a copy of the program, visit the online store.