USU’s Rodriguez continues to put team first

October 6, 2016

When asked during fall camp what his personal goals were for the season, Utah State wide receiver Andrew Rodriguez did not hesitate when he said help the program win a Mountain West championship.

You see, No. 82 has always been one to put his team first. For starters, Rodriguez elected to transfer from Houston to USU even though it meant he would walk onto the squad. The native of Allen, Texas, also proved it by moving from inside to outside receiver during his senior season.

This move has allowed Rodriguez and true freshman Rayshad Lewis to be on the field at the same time, and the USU passing attack has clearly benefited from this.

“They’ve done a nice job catching it, and I’m really proud of those guys, especially A-Rod,” USU head coach Matt Wells said of Lewis, Rodriguez and Ron’quavion Tarver during his press conference Monday. “As a senior, with the emergence of Rayshad, we moved Andrew outside, and he took it in stride and learned what to do. He’s done a nice job as an outside receiver, when playing inside would be more of a natural fit for him.”

Rodriguez, who was awarded a scholarship following the 2015 campaign, has certainly made his mark since transitioning as an outside target. Case in point: The senior has 13 receptions for 153 yards over USU’s last two games.

The son of Tomas and Bianca Rodriguez hauled in a career-high seven catches against Air Force and followed that up with a career-best 89 yards receiving last Saturday against now-No. 19 Boise State. The 5-foot-9, 185-pounder snared a 30-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Kent Myers in the fourth quarter last week.

“Anytime as a wideout you get thrown to, it’s exciting because you get to make plays,” Rodriguez said when asked about the last two contests. “It’s also a big responsibility at the same time to catch the ball, but I feel like Kent’s been looking at me more as the games have gone by, which is nice. But I just have to maximize my opportunities.”

One of the reasons Rodriguez has emerged as a go-to target in the passing game is his health has improved. The former Allen High star sprained his left knee during the very first play of the very first scrimmage during spring camp. Rodriguez was able to return for fall camp but was clearly limited, and the coaching staff made sure he didn’t overextend himself.

However, better health isn’t the biggest reason why Rodriguez feels he has been targeted more since Mountain West play began.

“I would say just being comfortable with (the) outside receiver (position), really,” he said. “It’s definitely a lot different moving from inside to outside, but as the weeks have gone on, I’ve become more comfortable with the routes. And I guess it’s just different; it’s different catching the ball from the outside than it is from the inside. I think that’s really what it is. I mean, obviously I have gotten a little bit healthier, but ultimately healthy or not, I’m still going to play.”

Jovon Bouknight, USU’s co-offensive coordinator and wide receivers coach, has definitely liked what he’s seen out of Rodriguez over the past two weeks.

“(He’s been) clutch, man,” Bouknight said. “We’d love to obviously get him going in punt return, and we’ve got to get a few more extra blocks for him, but we know he can be a dangerous weapon in the punt return game. But again, he’s like Mr. Clutch in passing situations. He dropped one ball last week, but it happens to the best of us, but other than that, man, he’s catching very tough catches out there, and he’s laying it out there on the line. So, he’s doing everything that’s asked of him, and we’re excited about his future and the rest of the season.”

Not only is Rodriguez sure-handed, he is fearless over the middle of the field, despite being undersized. When asked if there was another receiver he would trust at much as Rodriguez in a third-down situation, Bouknight had a difficult time picking between No. 82 and tight end Wyatt Houston.

“It’s a toss-up,” Bouknight said. “I mean, they’re both very reliable.”

As Bouknight eluded to, Rodriguez is a very good punt returner, one of the best in the Mountain West. As a junior, Rodriguez was selected to the Phil Steele All-MW second team after returning 26 punts for a 9.9-yard average.

It was Rodriguez who saved the day in USU’s 12-9 season-opening victory over Southern Utah last year when he took a punt 88 yards to the house with less than five minutes remaining in the game. Rodriguez broke the Mountain West record with eight punts returns for 136 yards against SUU.

No. 82 hasn’t broken a long return as a senior, but has been very consistent as he has averaged 9.4 yards on eight returns to rank third in the conference.

Rodriguez currently ranks third on the team in receptions (17) and receiving yards (174). He finished last season tied for second on the squad with 27 catches.

Due to NCAA transfer rules, Rodriguez redshirted his first season in Logan, where he was named the 2014 Scout Team Offensive MVP.

Rodriguez spent his first two seasons at Houston, although he was limited to a pair of games as a true freshman due to a hip injury. As a freshman, Rodriguez gave Louisiana Tech fits with five receptions — all of them resulted in first downs — for 82 yards.

As a sophomore, Rodriguez played in 11 games, started one and finished with nine catches for 88 yards.

“I had a series of a lot of injuries,” said Rodriguez when asked why he elected to transfer. “I tore a lot of things in my hip, and I was at a point where I wasn’t really happy going to school there. I wanted a change, so I sought to move to a school out here in Utah, and I did. It wasn’t anything that major. It’s not like I had any issues with coaches or anything. I just wanted a change.”

Moving to Cache Valley was undoubtedly a big change for Rodriguez, who had never seen snow prior to transferring. Rodriguez ended up arriving in Logan a few weeks before the start of fall camp of 2014, “and I’ve enjoyed it ever since.”

Rodriguez was a very good high school player for a very good program in a football-crazy state. As a prep senior, Rodriguez garnered first-team all-state accolades after catching 64 passes for 1,462 yards and 18 TDs. Allen High went 31-5 during Rodriguez’s final three seasons with the program.

Football is one of a handful of sports Rodriguez is fond of. He “really enjoy(s) playing basketball” and likes “to play pickup games of soccer.” Rodriguez also likes to swim “when it’s actually good enough weather.”

Rodriguez graduated this past spring with a degree in interdisciplinary studies and is currently working on a second bachelor’s degree in sociology.

Bouknight said he has thoroughly enjoyed getting to know Rodriguez over the past few years and asserted he is a fun person to be around.

“Probably his smile, his laughter, his sense of humor he brings into the receivers room,” Bouknight said when asked what he cherishes most about coaching Rodriguez. “I mean, he brightens up the wide receivers room, and like I said, I can rely on him when I’m not there. He is the coach when I’m not in that room, and I can count on him.”