Before the 2013 season, Eddie Rodriguez wasn’t even sure he would play football for Niles North. Now the senior wide receiver is one of the Vikings’ top offensive threats.
Rodriguez played for Evanston as a freshman and sophomore, but he sat out his junior year because he knew his family was moving. He transferred to Niles North near the end of the 2012 football season. He wasn’t sure how well he could compete for playing time with players who had been with the program for years.
“I took the entire year off,” he said. “I didn’t play any other sports; I only did the occasional workout.”
It was encouragement from an old friend that helped convince Rodriguez to play as a senior.
“We played Junior Vikings together, but lost touch when he moved to Evanston,” said senior Michael Marek, a Niles North offensive lineman. “When he came to North we became friends again. We talked to coach (Mark) Egofske about Eddie playing.”
“The times in the summer when I wasn’t motivated to go to practice, Michael would call me up and have me sleep over,” Rodriguez said. “He lives near the school, and we’d go to the morning practices together.”
It was during those summer workouts that teammates saw Rodriguez’s potential.
“We both play wide receiver, so I was always doing drills with him,” senior J.J. Myles said. “He was lost at first, but he’s got great hands and he always runs hard.”
Rodriguez saw he could learn a lot from Myles, the team’s top returning receiver. During practice, Myles would help with his technique, showing him things like how to properly stand at the line before the snap. Eventually, they began to get extra workouts in after practices.
“There were times in the summer where we’d have morning practices, then go to the field when nobody else was there,” Myles said. “Me, Eddie, Mike, we’d get (senior quarterback) Charlie (Long), and just go work on routes, run 1-on-1s.”
There were nights, Rodriguez said, when they would work on their routes until it was dark, and they’d ask a security guard to turn the lights on in the stadium.
That extra work helped Rodriguez earn a starting spot at wide receiver for the Vikings, and he’s taken advantage of the opportunity.
In a 21-20 loss to Highland Park on Friday, Rodriguez caught five passes for a game-high 121 yards. His fifth reception was a 36-yard touchdown on a corner route that put the Vikings up 18-14. On the ensuing two-point conversion, Long again found Rodriguez in the end zone.
“I was actually the second option on the play,” Rodriguez said. “When I hit my break I shoved off on (No.) 7, and I noticed I was open, so I started clapping for Charlie.”
Although Highland Park would go on to win the game and drop Niles North to 3-5 overall and 2-2 in the CSL North, Rodriguez picked a great time to have his best performance of the season.
“The defensive coordinator and recruiter from Aurora (University) came to watch me and Mike,” Rodriguez said. “We had no idea he’d be there.”