Firebirds’ Rodriguez a late addition to East roster

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The last couple of weeks have been hectic and exciting for recent Southern Nash High graduate Abe Rodriguez.

Earlier this month, the former Firebirds offensive lineman signed a scholarship offer to play football at Lackawanna College, a National Junior College Athletic Association member in Scranton, Pennsylvania. Then on Wednesday, Rodriguez got a phone call from his former head coach at Southern Nash, Brian Foster.

“He asked me if I wanted to play in the East-West game and I said, ‘Yeah!’” Rodriguez said.

Rodriguez was named as a replacement for the East squad for the North Carolina Coaches Association’s 70th annual East-West All-Star Game, to be played Wednesday at Grimsley High in Greensboro.

Foster said he got a call Wednesday from the East coaches, asking if he had somebody who was worthy of playing in the all-star game.

“I said, ‘I don’t just have somebody, I have THE body!’” Foster said. “So we sent Big Abe and it worked out.”

Foster pointed out that another Firebirds senior, Dae’One Wilkins, was originally selected to play for the East but had to decline since he was in summer school at Furman University.

Rodriguez, who said he will play offensive and defensive line in Greensboro, has lost a bit of weight from his 6-foot-2 frame since the beginning of his senior season nearly a year ago. He is listed at 282 pounds on the East roster, down from the 300 he carried entering the 2017 high school season.

Still, with a highlight tape worthy of being shown at iHOP given his repeated pancake blocks, Rodriguez is gifted physically.

“Abe’s a really, really strong kid,” Foster said. “He’s an 8-10 broad jumper, which you really wouldn’t expect in a kid that size that young. He’s really athletic, so hopefully he’ll get a chance to show that.”

Rodriguez attended Southern Nash as a freshman but moved with his family to Forest, Virginia, where he was a standout at Jefferson Forest High in the fall of 2016.

“I played really good over there,” he said. “I was all-conference and second-team all-state. Then I came back here and they saw what I did over there and I came back and showed them what I had.”

Indeed, Rodriguez quickly established himself as a mainstay on the Firebirds offensive line, usually at right guard, as they went 12-2 and 5-0 in the 3-A Big East Conference, winning their second straight league title. Despite a high-ankle sprain in Southern Nash’s second game last fall that hampered him throughout the season, Rodriguez was named to The Wilson Times All-Area Team and the All-Big East team.

However, Rodriguez didn’t find that translated into immediate college scholarship offers after his high school career was done. The only two programs that were interested were Lackawanna and Louisburg College, also an NJCAA member. Lackawanna made his decision an easy one.

“They gave me more of an opportunity to play there and they gave me a scholarship,” said Rodriguez, the son of Maria Knowles of Middlesex and Manuel Rodriguez of Nashville.

Foster said that he believes Lackawanna will be “a good fit” for Rodriguez.

“It’s one of the few junior colleges that are affordable,” the Firebirds coach said. “Some of them don’t give scholarships and some of them do. He was fortunate enough to get some scholarship money.”

Rodriguez said that he leaves July 29 for Pennsylvania to start his college career. But he still has one last piece of high school business to take care of this week in Greensboro.

“It’s a great opportunity and I’m going to try to represent my school and myself and what we represent over here in Nash County,” Rodriguez said.