10 things to know about UK running back Christopher Rodriguez
Unlike seasons past, when Benny Snell or Lynn Bowden grabbed all the rushing yards, Kentucky has a trio of features backs in 2020, any or all of whom could erupt for a big play on a given snap or in a given week. Perhaps the least-heralded of the trio is sophomore running back Christopher Rodriguez … but given Rodriguez’s hard-charging style, his ability to dominate games late, and his emerging group of fans, it wouldn’t be wise to sleep on his chances for an explosive 2020 season.
Here are 10 things you should know about Chris Rodriguez.
1. He wasn’t always a running back …
Granted this was back in middle school, but Rodriguez was a center in 7th grade until he broke his arm. When he healed up, his brother had taken his starting job … and that forced him to move to running back. Rodriguez credits his time as a lineman with helping him develop his physical style of play.
2. A little bit country, a little bit hip-hop
Maybe it’s his Georgia roots, but Rodriguez considers himself a fan of country music. On the other hand, he has listed Chance the Rapper and Drake as two potential guests at his fantasy dinner (Odell Beckham Jr. was the third). Like his running style, maybe his musical skills feature something for every taste.
3. Maybe his best high school football story involves defense
Rodriguez played in a game at Ola High School in Georgia when he rushed for 397 yards on 51 (!?!) carries. But the part of the game that might be best remembered is the last play — when Rodriguez was sent in on defense to contest a lateral-heavy final play with Ola clinging to a 1-point lead. In the carnage of the play, Rodriguez told the Louisville Courier-Journal that he made 3 different tackles — with the ballcarrier making a lateral on the first 2 hits before the third stop finally ended the play — and the game. Maybe the other 8 guys on the field just got lucky before they got their chance?
4. There’s a reason they call him “Mini Benny”
Rodriguez’s bruising running style calls to mind another Kentucky back who similarly was a load between the tackles and was a North-South runner — current Pittsburgh Steeler Benny Snell. Rodriguez, who is 5-11, 224, quickly established himself as a difficult guy to bring down, and his teammates nicknamed him “Mini Benny.”
— Wildcat Hub 🏈 (@WildcatHub) August 18, 2020
5. He really does get better down the stretch
Rodriguez finished 2019 as part of UK’s 3-headed running back combo, with A.J. Rose and Kavosiey Smoke. As the bruiser of the bunch, Rodriguez saw much of his time — and did much of his damage — late in games. He averaged 7.5 yards per carry on his 533 rushing yards in 2019, but after averaging 5.0 yards per carry in the first half of games, Rodriguez averaged 9.4 yards per carry in the second half of games … and 11.8 yards per carry in the 4th quarter.
6. Kentucky’s loss to Tennessee marked Rodriguez’s emergence
Rodriguez saw little time early in the season, and it wasn’t until UK’s tough 17-14 loss to Tennessee that he began to see the spotlight. He finished that game with 81 rushing yards on a dozen carries, and from there, he added 100+ rushing yards against Vanderbilt (129 yards) and Louisville (125 yards). He also scored touchdowns in each of Kentucky’s last 4 games of the season.
7. Taking the lead, blocking-wise
Plenty of SEC backs are used to carrying the ball, but not carrying the load as a lead blocker. It’s not an issue for Rodriguez. … Maybe those offensive line roots are still with him.
One of the coolest parts of this @UKFootball offensive transformation has been the buy from the skill guys. This is a heck of a reach block by RB Christopher Rodriguez Jr! Little extra at the end as well. Incredible job by @CoachGran & co… pic.twitter.com/xzAUb5JSYH
— Cole Cubelic (@colecubelic) December 4, 2019
8. Cole Cubelic is a fan
It’s one thing for the people around Kentucky’s program to project Rodriguez as a rising star. But plenty of others have noticed his hard-charging style and intense motor. Analyst Cole Cubelic projects Rodriguez as one of his top 5 SEC offensive breakthrough players for 2020.
MY top 5 SEC offensive breakout players for 2020: pic.twitter.com/wYc5zTpmzo
— Cole Cubelic (@colecubelic) July 24, 2020
9. Another fan was “quarterback” Lynn Bowden
Among the multi-faceted Bowden’s many talents was apparently the gift of prophecy. See this clip from the Louisville game last year, when Bowden hands the ball to Rodriguez, and “calls” the 64-yard touchdown immediately.
— Cole Cubelic (@colecubelic) December 1, 2019
10. Happy birthday?
No need to wonder what Rodriguez would enjoy for a birthday gift. A victory at Auburn on Sept. 26 (which is his birthday) would doubtlessly make for a memorable experience. Kentucky also won on its last trip to Auburn in 2009.
But nah all jokes aside. September 26 needs to hurry up. Season starts and it’s my bday ✊🏽🤍
— Chris Rodriguez Jr (@CROD_JR) August 4, 2020