Nearly five years after earning a Bronze Star with "V" and a Purple Heart for his actions in Afghanistan at the Battle of Kamdesh, former Army Sgt. Daniel Rodriguez will suit up Saturday to begin his senior football season with the Clemson Tigers.
It's a story fit for Hollywood.
Hollywood thinks so, anyway.
TriStar Productions won a bidding war for film rights to Rodriguez's upcoming book — "Rise: A Soldier, a Dream and a Promise Kept," which hits stores Oct. 7. After a scheduled December graduation, and possibly a bowl game with the 16th-ranked Tigers, he'll be working with producers on the project.
(And no, he has nobody in mind for the title role, although his teammates have made requests to be portrayed by various Hollywood A-listers.)
In an Aug. 20 phone interview, Rodriguez said he hopes his story of overcoming depression after leaving service and finding his way onto the big-time college gridiron will resonate with other service members facing a transition — and ready to make their mark.
"Find your 'why,' " Rodriguez said when asked about his story's message. "Find that motivation to really set your goals and go after them. Don't take 'no' for an answer. That's what I try to live by."
More from the soldier-athlete-author, edited for brevity and clarity:
Q. Why did you write the book?
A. I've always been passionate about writing, and I felt with what I've accomplished, it's not as beneficial if I can't help others do what I did. I felt I could put down the raw materials and shed light on what I'd gone through. ... A lot of people just see me as a veteran-turned-football player — that's a huge process in between, going from one to the next. I battled depression, I did a lot of stuff, and I wanted to highlight what it was that got me here so that other people who've been in my position, they think that they can do it. That would be great for me.
Q. What advice do you have for separating service members?
A. Tap into every resource available, and don't be afraid to ask questions. You come out [of the military] kind of lost. You feel that you've lost your purpose. You're in a combat environment, and then all of a sudden you feel like you're not needed. I was down that same road. I used my family and people around me, I used my resources to get an edge. ... Never feel down about yourself. I had sleepless nights, depression, going to counseling, medication — for me, I had to make that change. I couldn't have somebody tell me what to do, I knew — it was just taking the action to do it.
Q. What would make this a successful season, personally, for you at Clemson?
A. I want to be more of a role player on offense. I'd like to rotate in more in the wide receiver corps, contribute on a more play-in, play-out basis, including special teams. When I first got to Clemson, it was mainly special teams. Last year, I got into more action on offense. Now, I know the offense well. I have a great relationship with and trust in the coaches, and they have trust in me. I have expectations for myself to contribute more. ... I want to let people see me as an athlete, not just somebody who's here on a good measure. I want to be looked at as a football player.
Q. You used YouTube to help get noticed by colleges. What's your take on the military and social media?
A. It's kind of funny — for me, I didn't put myself out there to try to get exposed. I put my original video on YouTube just to get a URL to make it more easily accessible to college coaches, and the damn thing went viral. The lesson I learned is, you have to adapt to technology. That's people's source of information, and how they're connected to parts of the world they'll never see. ... Social media can be used in a very positive way in terms of trying to become something, or start something yourself. I've seen firsthand how powerful it is.
Q. What's the next step?
A. I signed with CAA, the Creative Artists Agency out of Los Angeles, I'll be speaking professionally on their circuit. I'm working with TriStar [on the movie], so I'll be moving to Los Angeles working with that. ... I'm really just kind of riding the wave, seeing what opportunities present themselves, seeing what I get into next. I would love to coach. I would love to do some strength and conditioning, but ultimately just kind of get where I feel I'm needed. That's the biggest thing I've come to find in my life: When I see the need for something, at that moment, is when I like to take advantage of it.
Check out Rodriguez's 2012 appearance on Military Times' fitness blog, PT365, performing our expert's hard-core Valhalla workout: