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AURORA, Neb. - Andrew Rodriguez is still trying to wrap his head around the dramatic turn his life has taken over the course of the past four years.
Rodriguez, the nation's No. 12 offensive tackle and 2010 Nebraska commit, moved away from his rough native Harlem, N.Y., neighborhood to live with his brother and sister-in-law in Aurora just before his freshman year of high school.
It was a dramatic life change for the 6-foot-6, 300-pound Rodriguez, but it was undoubtedly one for the better. After just four years of playing organized football, he was selected to play in the 2010 U.S.
Army All-American Bowl in San Antonio this January.
On Friday, U.S. Army representatives held a ceremony at the high school in front of the entire Aurora student body to officially announce the selection. The normally reserved and soft-spoken Rodriguez had to hold back tears as best he could to describe how much the honor meant to him.
"It's just a big change," Rodriguez said. "I came from a city with a lot of violence. A lot of pressure here. The bowl game is a big, big thing, and I have to look up to it. I want to thank my sister-in-law and my brother, for giving me the opportunity to show who I am."
After helping lead the Huskies to a Class B state championship in 2008, Rodriguez has already paved the way for a 9-0 start and a district title for Aurora this season.
With his selection to the Army All-American Bowl, he also becomes just the seventh Nebraska player to play in the game in its 10-year existence. He joins Titus Adams (2001), David Horne ('02), Niles Paul and Harland Gunn ('07) and Trevor Robinson and Baker Steinkuhler ('08).
As far as Aurora individual athletic achievements go, Huskie head coach Randy Huebert said Rodriguez's selection was the most significant moment in the school's history.
While talking about Rodriguez's success, Huebert said it's his humble and genuine personality that makes him not only a great football player, but also an exceptional person.
"He's a genuine, caring person," Huebert said. "In return, a lot of people have a lot of respect for him. He's a great athlete, and he's going to work hard and give you his best shot, and he's definitely a team player. Like I've said, it's a privilege and a blessing for me to coach him.
"I think with Andrew, it's all just starting to him what - what he's been through. I don't think he's really realized it until recently, the past year or two. What he's been through, where he came from and what he has now. Along the whole road, he has been a first-class young man. A genuinely caring, genuinely humble person. That's Andrew."
After the ceremony, Rodriguez was asked if he would have ever pictured himself standing at that podium four years ago.
"No, not at all," he said. "A couple of years ago I pictured myself leaving bad situations. Obviously it's just a great, great feeling."
As for the Army All-American Bowl itself, Rodriguez said he's looking at a chance to prove that he's worthy of competing with the best high school football players the nation has to offer.
"I'm going to show people what I'm made of," he said. "I'm going to show them that it's not about the size of the school you're in or the population of your town, it's the heart that you have and the ability that you have to achieve your goals."