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This Veterans Day finds Germanna cheering for war hero who made his gridiron dream come true

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Daniel Rodriguez is greeted by Clemson football fans before a game.

This Veterans Day is a special one for former Germanna Community College and Brooke Point High School student Daniel Rodriguez.

Rodriguez, who earned both a Bronze Star and Purple Heart while serving in the U.S. Army in Afghanistan, has seen a dream come true this fall.

He made the Clemson football team as a walk-on, and led the Tigers onto the field carrying an American flag prior to the team’s  Oct. 21, Military Appreciation Day win over Virginia Tech.

Rodriguez’ fight was far from over after tours of duty in Iraq and Afghanistan that saw him wounded and decorated for valor.

He was a football star at Brooke Point in Stafford County, but he was too small for a football scholarship. His father suffered a heart attack and passed away four days after Daniel graduated. Without a scholarship or a father, he felt he couldn’t afford college, so he enlisted in the Army.

In Afghanistan, when his unit of 60 men came under attack by 300 Taliban, he saw a buddy shot in the head. Daniel exposed himself to enemy fire to help his friend and was shot in the shoulder and took shrapnel in both legs as he fought his way through the Taliban to reach him and drag him out of the line of fire. Then he realized his buddy was dead.

He returned home with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and night terrors. Using the G.I. Bill, he attended Germanna, and he credits he GCC with helping him decompress. GI Jobs Magazine recently included Germanna in its 2013 list of Military Friendly Colleges.

“My time at Germanna was incredible,” Rodriguez said. “In a nutshell, I made the transition from combat to classroom. Germanna really made me feel at home. There’s been nothing but support. It’s been awesome. I loved it.”

In July 2012, USA Today reported that Rodriguez’  “scholastic record at Germanna recently earned him a letter of acceptance from the South Carolina college.”

In December 2011, a YouTube video  showing Daniel working out and running pass routes caught the attention of a number of major college coaches, and he transferred to Clemson this fall.

Working out to try to catch a college coach’s eye, he said, helped him deal with PTSD. So, he said, did the atmosphere at Germanna.

USA Today featured Rodriguez in a story about the way the Army has changed its approach to dealing with mental illness due to the high suicide rate among active duty soldiers and veterans.

“It was tough for me to go to counseling,” he told USA Today’s Gail Sheehy. “But as I opened up more and more, it helped me to get my feelings out and understand it’s OK to talk about it to other people, my friends, my mom — don’t bottle it up.”