Photo courtesy of Florida Atlantic athletics
In the 2015 Shula Bowl against Florida International, it was not Kerrith Whyte or Buddy Howell who stood out for Florida Atlantic. Instead, it was freshman running back Trey Rodriguez.
In just his fourth career collegiate game, Rodriguez totaled 94 rushing yards and two touchdowns on 20 rushing attempts. The freshman running back also led the team in receiving, recording 46 yards on three catches. Rodriguez’s performance not only earned him the Shula Bowl Offensive MVP but also helped FAU score their second win of the season.
“In 2015, I was just a freshman just trying to make plays, you know, and I’m making plays early in the season, and that kind of follows,” Rodriguez said. “I was playing more and once that Shula Bowl hit, I was kind of like pretty much in my comfort zone at that point. So you know, there’s obviously a confidence game but as far remembering any plays in that game, just making big plays at the right time for my team, for my offense.”
In a stacked backfield that featured future NFL talents in Kerrith Whyte Jr. (Pittsburgh Steelers) and Buddy Howell (Houston Texans), Rodriguez more than held his own. Rodriguez finished his freshman season with 419 rushing yards and a team-high five touchdowns on just 70 carries. However, following the season, Rodriguez was dismissed from the program.
Since departing FAU, Rodriguez has faced a tough run in college football.
Following the short stint at FAU, Rodriguez transferred to the now-defunct Arizona Western. In his lone season at Arizona Western, Rodriguez totaled 944 yards and 16 touchdowns. Following Arizona Western, Rodriguez had a quick spell at Marshall. At Marshall, the running back totaled just 33 rushing attempts before departing the program.
Following the abbreviated stay at Marshall, Rodriguez committed to South Dakota. Unfortunately for Rodriguez, the start at South Dakota was rough.
“I went out there and you know, I was supposed to report to camp on time, which I did,” Rodriguez said. “Things wasn’t really right in the office as far as like the paperwork and everything being signed. So I guess somebody wasn’t there at the right time. So when I went there, I was kind of like just feel like everything was delayed for me.”
Rodriguez would eventually join the team, though it came midway through the start of fall camp. In 2019, Rodriguez played in just four games and made a limited impact. The graduate transfer finished the season with just 54 rushing yards on 12 attempts. Through the air, Rodriguez added 59 yards on eight receptions.
“I mean it was a good program, everything like that,” Rodriguez explained. “It was just I came late. Well, they let me start practicing late and things didn’t really pan out how I expected it to pan out. It was an OK experience, but I was just eager to back on the Division I scene. .. Things didn’t pan out there for me and the running back coach. I wouldn’t say it was the best experience but you know, it was worth trying to get a shot.”
Throughout his college career, Rodriguez saw some form of playing time in four different places. Looking back at his experiences, Rodriguez could not help but think the experience humbled him.
“I mean for sure. I mean, this is how I look at it. FAU, when I went to FAU, it was the perfect system. I couldn’t deny it. We didn’t have the best players. We had good enough players to make good plays and keep the offense rolling. Great offensive coordinators and stuff like that,” Rodriguez explained. “Went to JUCO, it was like pistol formation, it was still kind of spread so still good. … Long story short, I didn’t really look into Marshall or South Dakota. I just signed because I was that eager to go get back on that level because of the up and down. It was just a tough situation all around.”
When looking back at his career, Rodriguez wishes he could stay at FAU.
“If I could go back, I would do everything right and stay at FAU. I mean that is one of my biggest regrets, because I was really noticed as a freshman, so I’m sure in the next two years. I would have been where I wanted to at in life. … I played with Buddy Howell, I played with Kerrith Whyte — those are my boys. So it’s like I got the talent. That’s not the issue. I just had a rough little college career.”
The Next Chapter
Although Rodriguez went undrafted in the NFL Draft and was unable to find an opportunity immediately, Rodriguez has remained in shape and is ready, should an opportunity come.
“Anybody that knows me, they know that I’m ready. My work ethic speaks for itself. I can work out anywhere … I do everything I got to do. So as far as being ready, I’m not really worried about that,” Rodriguez said. “I just need the opportunity. I’m going to be in shape, I’m going to be able to run the ball, I’m going to be able to catch. That’s just a natural thing that God blessed me with. So far as being ready, it’s just going in there and be humble and doing what they tell me I need to do.”
Rodriguez, who measures in at 5-foot-10, considers himself a different kind of running back because of his ability to catch the ball, along with his versatility.
“There’s all different calibers [of running backs] and I just believe in, you need to keep a small back. A small back that can run that spread, that can get around on that outside zone and stuff like that and mainly that can catch out the backfield, that can be another receiver,” Rodriguez said. “I’m not just gonna be a running back. … I had made the all-decade team back home and they labeled me as a utility player. So you know what I’m saying, I’m everything.”
Regardless of when that opportunity comes for Rodriguez, he’s ready for it.
“If a team called right now and it was real, it’s official, I’m going away, ain’t no ifs, ands, or buts about it,” Rodriguez said. “And the coach that gave me the opportunity, he won’t regret that opportunity he gave me because I’m going to take full advantage of it.”