By Efrain Nieves and Victoria Cepeda
We are pleased to introduce you to Evan "ERod" Rodriguez, a two-time all Mid American Conference tight end/fullback for Temple University who ended his 2011 season with 35 catches, 479 yards receiving and two touchdowns. He has the ability to play different positions, making him a versatile player and a 2012 NFL draft prospect. He is expected to be picked on the third to fifth round of the NFL draft that starts this upcoming Thursday, April 26th.
We met Evan at the North Bergen Bruins Stadium on a windy but exceptionally sunny day. Evan, who is a tall and very approachable young man, greeted us with an honest handshake. You immediately get the sense that he is pumped but cautious. It is not by luck that Evan has been picked as a draft prospect for the NFL. A natural athlete and overachiever who has won countless of awards at county, state and national levels. Currently he is a senior at Temple University and a few courses away from earning his Bachelor's Degree in Criminal Justice. This multifaceted young man was born in the Bronx and grew up in North Bergen, NJ. But, in our opinion, what makes Evan exceptional is his humility, involvement in his community and his desire to share with the Latino community his success in a show of gratitude and pride of his roots.
VC: Evan thank you for granting us an opportunity to introduce you to our fans and congratulations on your NFL draft prospect status. I hear that the NY Giants, SF 49ers and the SD Chargers, among others have expressed an interest in you. How excited are you?
ER: It's a long process and overwhelming to know that a lot teams are interested in me given that I am a tight end, coming out in this year's draft and I am versatile.
Sports motivated me, my mother motivates me. I was raised by a single mother her name is Frances Rodriguez. Growing up I did not have a father figure but my mom got me into the Big Brother/Big Sister program. That's where I met my mentor Tom Schoenewald who sat me down and told me "you don't want to become a statistic of "Should have/Could have been" type of person in life. He is still very much someone that I look up to and is still involved in my life." I just gave the local BB/BS tickets to come to my Temple Owls vs. Army game this past season game, hang out with kids and give autographs.
VC: What keeps you motivated and inspired?
ER: My mother to be honest being that she was a single mother who raised two kids on her own. It is inspiring to see how strong she is. My job is to take care of her and my little brother as well. I don't want to let them down but my daily routine when I get up is to work out although it is hard at times but that is life. You just got to keep pushing for it. Every little effort pays off in the long run.
VC: How hard is it to combine sports such as football with studies? What message do you have for young athletes?
ER: It is not easy, it's not easy. But, you just got to keep pushing…can't quit. If you need help ask for help, don't be scared. Everyone needs help.
VC: Was playing football breaking the stereotypes about the sports? Especially with Latinos comprising only 1% of NFL players and preferring to play baseball or basketball?
ER: I have been playing football since I was, you know, seven years old. It's not easy you know, guys would say "oh,you're Spanish you should play baseball" or something like that.
VC: But you can play right? How good of a baseball player are you?
ER: Baseball? Baseball? I can play. (Smiles.)
VC: Why do you identify yourself as Latino?
ER: Being in the community that I come from, Hudson County, you're surrounded by so many Latinos and I just try to give back, especially to the younger kids. I actually did a presentation at Lincoln School where my younger brother, Louis Rodriguez's attends school. I told them about life and to set goals but to understand that you have to take baby steps to get to your goals. And do not give up regardless of what people tell you. As long as you believe in yourself do not give up.
VC: What is your background?
ER: I am half Puerto Rican and African American. I am a Boricua although I am not fluent in Spanish, I can still understand it. If you speak to me in Spanish, I would most likely speak to you in Spanglish.
VC: That is alright, we are fluent in Spanglish besides Latinos come in all colors and shapes.
VC: Ok, tell us what is your favorite meal?
ER: My mom would make us rice and beans "arroz con habichuelas", empanadas and her killer coquito during the Christmas season.
EN: What NFL players do you look up to?
ER: First my favorite NFL players, I have to say, are Sean Taylor and Deion Sanders but my friends in the league are Steve Maneri who is a tight end for the Kansas City Chiefs because while going to Temple he helped me out a lot. Muhammed Wilkinson who plays for the Jets and these are all a bunch of Temple guys they played a big factor in my life. They have told me that If I have any questions or doubts to give them a call. Especially coming from Temple, we don't get a lot of respect as it is, but the guys that are in the NFL have made a name for themselves and Temple is now starting to get on the mat and have moved to the Big East and are getting more attention. Guys in the NFL respect Temple players but you want the whole country to respect Temple players. We're getting there, we're getting there.
EN: I read an article the other day, while doing my research on you, where Brian Griese has spoken highly of you and compared you to Tony Gonzalez and other articles also comparing you to Aaron Hernandez. How does it feel to be compared to these guys that are icons not only within the NFL but to the Latino community as well?
ER: Gonzalez, wow. He's a Hall of Famer in my book and he's definitely going to be a Hall of Famer. He's been playing the game for over ten years and is someone that I would like to meet at some point to ask him how do you manage your career to be so long.
And Hernandez, he is a guy that I look up to. I patterned my game after him. I kind of play like him you know. We got the same style of play, being that my head coach was Steven Adazzio. Steven was the offensive coach at Florida when Hernandez was there and then came to Temple, and took the head coach job, he would call me "baby Hernandez". So I respect that and I have looked at films and say I play like this guy.
EN: Last year, at Temple if I am correct, you started twelve games, you got 35 catches and 479 yards? 35 catches is a lot for twelve games. What do you think you can bring to the NFL with seventeen games?
ER: Being that at Temple we basically were a running team, I lead the team in receptions but once I get to the NFL, a team can fit me in the right system and use me real well. I bring a lot of versatility since I play more than one position, tight end, fullback, slot receiver. I look at myself as very versatile.
EN: Any last words before we go?
ER: I would like to give a shout out to North Bergen, my entertainment team New League Nation, my lifelong friends from North Bergen Chris Macias (aka "Chris Major") and Robin Castro (aka DJ Rob Cast). Thank you and God bless.
We wish Evan Rodriguez the best at the 2012 NFL draft and will be supporting him. Off the record, we know which team Evan would like to play for, but that is for us to know and for you to find out.
And check out what the major sports outlets are saying: 2012 Top NFL Draft Prospects and Evan Rodriguez, Temple, NFL Draft – CBSSports.com – NFLDraftScout.com.