Joel Rodriguez, among the friendliest and brightest players to ever don a Hurricanes jersey, knows all about the University of Miami-Florida State rivalry.
Rodriguez, 33, who grew up in Miami, graduated from Monsignor Pace and returned to the Hurricanes family this season as the director of player development, was a UM center from 2000 through 2004 -- part of an era that had UM defeating FSU six consecutive times (including 2003, when the Canes beat the 'Noles at Tallahassee during the regular season and in the Orange Bowl in the postseason).
Rodriguez has the distinction of never having lost to Florida State or Florida during his career. "That was a great run,'' he said. "I'm very, very lucky.''
Rodriguez backed up Brett Romberg during the 2001 national championship season as a redshirt freshman, the year then-No. 2 Miami beat FSU 49-27 at Doak Campbell Stadium.
In 2002 the Canes beat FSU 28-27; in 2003, 22-14 on the road and 16-14 in the Orange Bowl; in 2004, 16-10 in overtime the home opener.
"That was by far my favorite Florida State game,'' Rodriguez said of the 2004 overtime game. "Art Kehoe -- that look in his eye,'' he said of his offensive line coach. "I've never been around a coach who got his players to play harder or longer than Art Kehoe. To this day, I'd run through a brick wall for him.
"In 2004, the play we called where Frankie [Gore] scored in overtime, was designed just to get Frank in the middle of the field so the ball could be downed and we could get a field goal. The first play got us on the left hash and that's a pretty sharp angle for a kicker. We called a stretch play to the right assuming Frank would get tackled in the middle of the field for a couple yards gain -- but obviously we scored [on an 18-yard run].
"It was the exact same play that Frank scored on to beat Florida in the '03 game for the game-winning touchdown.''
Rodriguez said he "can't remember ever hearing the crowd in the huddle" because he was "so blacked out and focused listening to the guys." He said he considers former FSU quarterback Chris Rix "the MVP of every Miami-Florida State game during those years. He had a snap on third down that hit him in the thigh. Any other player in the country would have caught that snap. He found ways to win games for us and I'm very appreciative.''
Rodriguez was the offensive line coach and run-game coordinator for Fordham University in New York before returning to Miami. Now he describes his responsibilities as being "a member of the support staff that glues the players and coaching staff to all the other parts that touch the players' lives. It's being a liaison between the coaching staff and the equipment room, the coaching staff and community relations or campus affairs. and I spearhead initiatives that would help our players become better people, and in turn, better players.
"This place is different now in a lot of ways -- obviously the new buildings, new facilities, a lot of new faces, new coaching staff. But the principles of the team how we're supposed to win never change."
Rodriguez is married to Amanda, a Johnson & Wales Rhode Island graduate, and has an 11-year-old daughter. He said he has aspirations to coach one day, "and if the opportunity ever comes up I obviously would be humbled. But the best way [to get there] is to master and exceed the expectations of the role I'm in right now."
SUSAN MILLER DEGNAN