Wounded vet lives football dream for the fallen

Daniel Rodriguez CBS News

(CBS News) One of the worst attacks of the Afghan war took place three years ago this week. Eight Americans died.

Now, one of the men injured on that day is back home and has moved from the battlefield to the football field.

U.S. Army Sgt. Daniel Rodriguez found himself under attack constantly at a remote outpost in Afghanistan.

On October 3, 2009, he was injured in one of the bloodiest battles of the war. Among the eight soldiers killed was his best friend, Pfc. Kevin Thomson.

"We had a really close relationship," Rodrguez said. "We shared a bunk. We shared a room. I think about him all the time."

Rodriguez received a Purple Heart and a Bronze Star with Valor for his actions that day. But after leaving the military, Rodriguez struggled.

"I was an alcoholic," he said. "You know I resorted to a lot of alternatives as far as PTSD goes... obstacles were in the way on a daily basis."

Then Rodriguez remembered a pact he made with Thomson, before his death.

"I made a promise to my best friend that was killed that I was going to play football, and just committed myself to eating right, working out, and quit drinking," Rodriguez said.

Last December, Rodriguez posted a highlight video on YouTube. It went viral and got the attention of Clemson head football coach, Dabo Swinney.

"I really was just mesmerized because I had never really seen a video put together like that," Swinney said.

Despite not having played football since high school, this 24-year-old, only 5'8" tall, walked-on and made Clemson's football team.

Rodriguez said he made his way back up from rock bottom through "persistence."

"I didn't die that day on October 3 because I was meant to do more with my life," He said. "And now I have my buddies in the grave pushing me to be the best that I can be."

While Afghanistan is always on the back of his mind, Rodriguez said "where I am at now in my life trumps everything in a positive way."

Rodriguez is a starter on special teams and is trying break in as a wide receiver. On September 8, he made his first milestone: his first catch against Ball State.

"You know, it wasn't anything special," he said. "To me it was. To 80,000 fans it was. But in hindsight, it was a 4-yard catch that got the fans crazy ... Just the reaction out of the crowd has made me so humble."

It may have been the most famous 4-yard catch in the history of college football.

"I was so excited for him," Swinney said. "Here's a guy that two years ago he's sitting in who knows where with bullets flying at him, watching his best friend, watching others die fighting for his country with a dream and a promise that one day, if I get out of this thing alive, I'm going to go to college. I'm going to fulfill my dream."

Rodriguez did not record a reception against Boston College, but he is leading the team in other less tangible ways.

"I'm just trying to remain who I am and keep that presence about me about why I am doing this and what I am doing," he said. "It's for my buddies that were killed in action. And I want it to be something that when I see them again, they say, hey, you gave it your all and we're proud of you."

Daniel Rodriguez may now be a world away from Afghanistan, but he's now inspiring his new band of brothers.

"I'm just trying to remain who I am and keep that presence about me about why I am doing this and what I am doing," he said. "It's for my buddies that were killed in action. And I want it to be something that when I see them again, they say, hey, you gave it your all and we're proud of you."

  • Jeff Glor

    Jeff Glor was named anchor of the Sunday edition of the "CBS Evening News" in January 2012 and Special Correspondent for "CBS This Morning" in November 2011.

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