Chris Rodriguez Jr.: From almost quitting to leading the charge


Chris Rodriguez Jr. poses for a photo during the UK football media day on Friday, Aug. 6, 2021, at Kroger Field in Lexington, Kentucky. Photo by Michael Clubb | Staff

Barkley Truax

It’s been one heck of an off-season for Chris Rodriguez Jr. 

From the Doak Walker Award list, to a nominee for the CFPA Performer of the Year Award, to being a preseason All-SEC selection, Kentucky’s star running back has been making headlines since the end of last season.

“I don’t even think about that stuff,” Rodriguez Jr. said of the awards. “My best friend, dad and the rest of my family, they love it; it’s all for them. I don’t really pay attention to any of that stuff because at the end of the day, (football) isn’t a player sport. You can’t win by yourself.”

“If I win an award, it’s because of my offensive line,” he added.

Even with all the accolades he’s received, he still doesn’t believe his spot is secured for the upcoming season.

“I don’t feel like it’s set in stone right now,” he said about being the featured back. “I run with the one’s, but until the first game comes, nothing’s set in stone. Obviously I’d love to be a starter, but there’s a group of guys behind me that can do the exact same stuff that I can do.” 

If Rodriguez Jr. thinks his spot isn’t secured, who should BBN be paying attention to? Obviously Kavosiey Smoke was the third featured back last season, but who else could give him a run for his money?

“La’Vell (Wright) just came in, that dude’s a baller,” Rodriguez Jr. said of the freshman. “He’s going to get his; if he gets a chance to step on that field, him, JuTahn (McClain), they’re going to take it over. Once me and Smoke leave, I don’t know who’s going to start because those boys are ballers.”

“It doesn’t matter who it is, you’re going to get the best out of everybody.” Rodriguez Jr. said of the running back room. With a new offensive coordinator in Liam Coen, every running back on the roster is having to adjust to the more pass-heavy offensive scheme.

“With us throwing the ball a lot more, it’s opening up everything. The running backs group has been working on catching the ball out of the backfield and doing a lot more that we’re not used to doing.”

There was potential that Smoke could’ve ended up as the favorite for the starting job if Rodriguez Jr. had kept his name in the NFL Draft. Coming back for a final season and graduating would mean a lot to his family, as he would become a first generation graduate.

“The last person to finish high school was my aunt,” he said. “I’ve had cousins, uncles that came before me that didn’t graduate high school. I have one older cousin, where he and I made an idea where it’s ‘okay listen, we need to graduate, so (my family) knows to not give up.’”

They went their separate ways after high school. His cousin went on to cosmetology school and he came to play football in Lexington. “I wanted to come here to a big university to show them that they don’t have to be like the rest of the family and do something with your life.”

Once Rodriguez Jr. stepped on campus, he immediately began drawing comparisons to Kentucky legend Benny Snell, where the media tabbed him with the nickname of ‘Baby Benny’.

“Eventually you’ve got to build your own legacy. You can’t just try to be like somebody else.”

He said that Benny Snell is the man, and when he first came into the program he had dreads and had a similar running style as Snell. “I like C-Rod,” he said. “It’s time I start creating my own legacy.”

That legacy almost never came into fruition, as he nearly quit football entirely during his sophomore year after a two-fumble performance in the season opener against Toledo.

“Coach said that if I fumbled again (after the first time), ‘you’re going to be on the sideline with me’,” he said. “I fumbled again and after that, I sat down and talked to my academic advisor and talked about it.” After opening up about wanting to quit, his advisor told him to never quit on himself and he’s taken that with him ever since. “I never gave up on myself. Nobody ever gave up on me.”

“I did have to gain my trust back through practice and producing on the field. I just want to thank (the coaches) for believing in me; not only them but also my teammates.”

Since then, Rodriguez Jr has had zero fumbles since August 31, 2019. With situations like that, it’s better to have short term memory than harping over every little mistake or detail.

“Even when it comes to stuff like the awards for instance, I see it, it’s cool, time to get back to work. I didn’t win the award yet, so it’s cool I’m nominated but it’s time to get back to work and get with my team,” he said.

“When I was playing bad, you never know what’s going to happen. The first two dudes can go down and then it’s my turn to step up. What am I going to do? Sit there and pout and act like I don’t want to play? Or am I going to step up and take advantage of the opportunity?” he said.

“They say to stay ready so you don’t have to get ready so I stayed ready for when my number was called.” Former offensive coordinator Eddie Gran called his number and the rest was history.