One last shot at pro football for North Bergen’s Rodriguez Dolphins’ quest for national title falls short; prayers for Manny

North Bergen native Evan Rodriguez has signed a three-year contract to play pro football again with the San Antonio Commanders of the Alliance of American Football, a new league that begins in February.
North Bergen native Evan Rodriguez has signed a three-year contract to play pro football again with the San Antonio Commanders of the Alliance of American Football, a new league that begins in February.

He’s 30 years old now and last played in the National Football League three years ago.

A lot has transpired in the life of North Bergen’s native son Evan Rodriguez since he went to training camp with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers a few years ago.

The 2006-2007 Hudson Reporter Male Athlete of the Year out of North Bergen High School, Rodriguez seemed to have the world on a string when the Chicago Bears drafted him out of Temple University in the fourth round of the 2012 NFL Draft.

Rodriguez was so liked by the Bears’ organization that they signed him to a four-year contract. But then disaster struck when Rodriguez was involved in two motor vehicle incidents, one in Chicago where he was traveling at a high rate of speed and another in March of 2013 in Miami Beach, where Rodriguez was arrested and charged with disorderly intoxication and resisting arrest. The last two charges were eventually dropped, as reported by NFL.com.

The Bears then released him, voiding his contract, sending him on a journey that saw him have brief stints with the Miami Dolphins, Buffalo Bills and Buccaneers, never getting to see action with any of those teams.

For all intents and purposes, Rodriguez’s once-promising professional football career was over.

There was one person who didn’t believe it was history – namely Evan Rodriguez.

“Every time I try to give it up, something else comes up,” Rodriguez said.

He’s a married man, has a healthy son after the tragic loss of his first child, a daughter. At age 30, without the prospects of getting a chance at pro football, maybe the time had come for Rodriguez to get on with the rest of his life.

But last spring, Rodriguez had a chance to play professional flag football, playing on a team with fallen NFL star Michael Vick. The championship game was televised on the CBS Sports Network. Rodriguez was spotted making catches and running as well as he ever had been.

That led to the latest opportunity, in a new league called the Alliance of American Football.

“My agent heard of the Alliance league,” Rodriguez said. “It’s like the spring league of the NFL.”

The Alliance of American Football (AAF) will kick off its inaugural season in February. There will be 10 games and a lot of the games will be televised. And Rodriguez will be a part of it, having signed a three-year contract with the San Antonio Commanders. Rodriguez is already in Texas training with his new team that has former NFL standout Daryl “Moose” Johnston as the general manager and has Mike Riley, the former head coach of the San Diego Chargers as well as at Oregon State and Nebraska, as the head coach.

“I have to thank the Lord for this chance,” Rodriguez said. “I always felt like I still could be playing. I look at other guys in the NFL and realize that could be me. That hurt me inside. People always want to remember the bad things that happened and never the good. I haven’t been in trouble since 2013. I always kept it in my mind that I needed another shot.”

Rodriguez will play tight end for the Commanders.

“People would tell me that I was washed up, but I kept fighting and kept my trust in the Lord,” Rodriguez said. “Sometimes, I had some doubt come into my head, but I knew that I couldn’t give up. I just needed the chance. I can’t wait to start the season.”

The Commanders begin the inaugural season against the San Diego Fleet on Feb. 9. The Fleet will be coached by former St. Louis Rams head coach Mike Martz, who led the Rams to their last Super Bowl appearance in 2001. Other head coaches in the league include former Florida and South Carolina head coach Steve Spurrier, legendary Hall of Famer and former San Francisco 49ers head coach Mike Singletary and former Minnesota Vikings head coach Brad Childress.

“There are some good football people involved in the league,” Rodriguez said.

Rodriguez said that he had someone involved with the XFL – the league owned by WWE chairman Vince McMahon, which will have a franchise in MetLife Stadium beginning in 2020 – contact him about possibly playing in that league.

“I did have someone reach out to me, but I’m not interested right now,” Rodriguez said. “I’m committed to this league. It’s going to be great competition.”…

The Hudson County Dolphins traveled to Florida for the AAU National Football Championships recently. Although the program’s three teams didn’t win a championship, it was an experience to last a lifetime.

“It was a great experience for the kids,” said head coach Ike Williams, the former St. Anthony and Fairleigh Dickinson basketball player who heads the Dolphins program. “It was the first time a lot of our kids ever left Jersey City. It was the first time a lot of them were away from home. I think we represented Hudson County and Jersey City pretty well.”

Williams was impressed with the amount of talent that participated in the tourney.

“The talent level was incredible,” Williams said. “I think we had to get accustomed to that style of football.”

Each of the Dolphins’ three teams – ages 8 and under, ages 10 and under, and ages 12 and under – played at least three games in Davenport, Florida. The 12-and-under team advanced to the national semifinals before falling to a Florida team 14-12.

“The facility was amazing,” Williams said. “There were 60 teams from all over the country and about six or seven fields all going at once.”

The opponents were impressed with the Dolphins’ uniforms, which rivaled those of the Miami Dolphins.

“A lot of the Florida teams really liked our uniforms,” Williams said. “The people there were tremendous. The kids were treated so well. They thought they were in a mansion. They had their own pool and game room. It was awesome, an unbelievable experience.”

The Dolphins were able to go thanks to a substantial grant from the Hurley Family Foundation, spearheaded by Williams’ high school coach, legendary Hall of Famer Bob Hurley.

“I cried when I got the check,” Williams said. “Coach Hurley is like a father to me. How could I ever repay Coach Hurley for what he’s done for me? I’m able to walk the straight path again. My father came through for me and I cried. I didn’t even know what to say. The kids had the best time of their lives and that was a great feeling for me.”

Williams credited the play of several youngsters. From the 8 and under team, there were Ky’Sir Burns, Nasir Rush and Nehki Ross. From the 10 and under team, there were Trayvon Terry, Nacir Robinson Ransone and Rasheed Muldrow. From the 12 and under squad there were Elijah Rose, Harry Massey, Jr. and Max Costello.

“All in all, it was a great experience and the kids can’t wait to go again next year,” Williams said.

Maybe a tradition has been formed.

In closing, the deepest condolences go out to the family of Manny Fernandez, who passed away recently. There was no bigger high school basketball fan in the country than Manny, who was a fixture at all games, especially those that involved his beloved Friars of St. Anthony.

Manny became a good friend over the last 35 years and we spent many a time chatting about high school sports. He loved the Friars, first and foremost, but he was a super fan to all of the local teams in northern New Jersey. God bless Manny for his undying love of high school sports and athletes. He was one of a kind and he will be missed. – Jim Hague