A case can be made that Anthony Rodriguez (No. 32 in picture above) has been the most all-around athletic player on the football field in Loyola’s six games this season.
The 6-foot, 190-pound junior outside linebacker is fast and strong, and he has quick feet and soft hands. But Rodriguez, a first-year varsity player, still has a lot to learn about the game.
“He’s raw, but he’s a great athlete who is super physical,” Loyola outside linebackers coach Mike Dooley. “We are willing to live with some of the mistakes he’s going to make because of his huge upside.”
Loyola head coach John Holecek knows what makes a good football player, and he said Rodriguez possesses the physical tools to be a star someday.
“He’s got that quick twitch, which makes him explosive,” Holecek said. “When you have that ability and then the game slows down, that is what will turn him into a great player.”
For the amateur observer, it appeared Rodriguez already was there during Saturday’s 35-3 win over St. Rita. He had an interception, broke up a pass and had a tackle for loss against an offense that averaged 41 points and 428 yards a game.
The interception, which led to Loyola’s final touchdown of the first half and a 28-3, illustrated both Rodriguez’s athletic ability and his ever-evolving understanding of the game.
On third-and-9, Rodriguez dropped back in coverage and recognized the receiver’s out pattern. He played off the receiver enough to encourage St. Rita quarterback Jake Zylman to throw the ball. Rodriguez, a sprinter for Loyola’s varsity track team, then quickly closed the gap and picked off the pass.
In six games, Rodriguez is tied for the team lead in tackles for loss (7), tied for second in sacks (2) and has the third most unassisted tackles (25). He also has one interception, one pass breakup, one forced fumble and one quarterback hurry.
“I will tell you that being on varsity for your first year is a big learning experience,” Rodriguez said. “Every week, I learn something new about the position.”
Growing up, Rodriguez, the lone varsity player to attend St. John Brebeuf in Niles, played several sports. He tried baseball, basketball, cross country, football, track and volleyball. It wasn’t until after his sophomore year that Rodriguez decided football would be his primary sport.
“I really dedicated myself to football in the offseason and put in a lot of work,” said Rodriguez, who grew one inch and added 15 pounds since the end of his sophomore football season. “I think the coaches noticed. Every day, I am trying to become mentally and physically stronger.”
Photo credit: Melissa Krein/Loyola