The Hart football team will soon have its second alumnus at a Division I program in the Southeastern Conference, as kicker and punter extraordinaire Aaron Rodriguez announced his commitment to the University of Missouri as a preferred walk-on on Sunday on Twitter.
Rodriguez made the announcement after returning from a campus visit that weekend, where he was able to explore the school and athletic facilities, and meet with associate head coach and special teams coordinator Andy Hill.
“I went out there on their junior day and it was perfectly set up for a visit. I got to meet (Hill) in person, had a meeting with him, he is a really great guy,” Rodriguez said. “I watched the whole practice, went to the stadium and checked it out, got the full experience and it really was a place that felt like home.”
That homey feeling Rodriguez felt while on Missouri’s campus drew him in, reminding him of the Santa Clarita Valley.
SCV is filled with passionate sports fans, similarly to Columbia, Missouri, where the university’s athletic teams are the main attraction.
Especially the football team.
“The University of Missouri and the alumni of Missouri, as well as the town, they are almost all one. Everything kind of revolves around the school, so that was something for me. Even out here in Santa Clarita football is big,” Rodriguez said. “You get a lot of people who come out to the games, alumni, things like that, so it was a place that felt like home to me. It’s not a crazy huge town, but there’s a lot going on and it revolves around a lot of different things, but mostly football. That was something that was really cool for me.”
The decision to play at Missouri really wasn’t a hard one for Rodriguez.
Aside from moving to a place that already feels like home, the opportunity to play in one of the toughest conferences in college football and be a part of a program with such a rich history made the choice relatively easy for him.
“When I reached out to the school that was one of the main things in mind. It’s an SEC school, a D1 school, they are so football-oriented and that’s a chance of a lifetime,” he said. “With kickers and punters trying to go to school it’s already tough, but to go and have a chance to play at an SEC school, one of the most, if not the most competitive conferences in college football is a dream come true. Having that opportunity is something I couldn’t pass up.”
The whole process, from the initial phone conversation with Hill, to the call back saying he had earned a spot on the team and the campus visit, was relatively quick, Rodriguez said.
While Rodriguez handled kicking and punting duties for the Indians, he was recruited to the Tigers as a punter.
Hill told him he’d have the opportunity to compete for the starting punter job as soon as he arrives at school as a freshman.
“One of the first things he did tell me is he wanted a guy he thought could come in and handle the pressure of potentially being a true freshman starter,” Rodriguez said of one his initial conversations with Hill. “He told me that I would be going in and immediately competing for the spot against probably one, maybe two guys, and if I win that spot, it’s mine. It’s set in stone. I take on the role and I’ll be a true freshman starter, so that’s definitely my next goal. Go in and work as hard as I can and earn that spot for myself.”
While he was recruited mainly as a punter, Rodriguez is going to continue working on his kicking game, in case his number is ever called.
The senior connected on 46-of-50 PATs and 6-of-12 field goals this past season, scoring a total of 64 points for the Indians.
“(Hill) wants me for my punting abilities, but I’m definitely going to keep up my kicking practices as well just in case somebody was to ever get hurt, or something like that, if they need someone to step in,” he said.
Rodriguez will be the second Hart player currently in the SEC, joining JT Shrout, who will be competing for the starting quarterback position as a redshirt sophomore at the University of Tennessee.
Shrout was one of the first people Rodriguez called when he made his decision, and the former teammates talked about the prospect of starting for their respective teams and playing against each other on one of the biggest football stages in the country.
Tennessee will travel to Missouri on Nov. 23, a game that could very well feature both Hart graduates in starting roles.
“I just saw him for the first time since winter break, he was here at the Hart field practicing,” Rodriguez said about Shrout. “I got to give him a hug and everything. He was one of the first people I told on the phone. He was my teammate, someone I looked up to and he was super excited for me. We both said we wish we could trade jerseys after the game because it would be really cool to see two Hart alumni go up against each other.
“Even though we can’t trade jerseys, we’re definitely going to take some really cool pictures together. We’re very much looking forward to that game.”