By Jim Hague
Observer Sports Writer
The entire Kearny High School football season was hanging in the balance. The Kardinals trailed Dickinson, 20-6, at halftime last Friday night, watching their faint hopes of finally qualifying for the NJSIAA state playoffs fade into the dark night.
With that, Kearny head coach Nick Edwards knew that he had to make a change, putting starting fullback Christian Rodriguez in as the Wildcat formation quarterback.
In the Wildcat, the quarterback takes a direct shotgun snap and then determines to either run the ball or throw a pass.
“I knew we were struggling and I knew we had to step up,” Rodriguez said. “I loved the idea of playing the Wildcat. I liked being the general of the offense. I know that there’s a responsibility, but I loved it.”
Rodriguez said he had one reaction when Edwards told him he was going in as the Wildcat signal caller.
“It is very tough,” said Rodriguez, who was once a quarterback earlier in his life. “But I said, ‘Let’s do it.’”
“We have the Wildcat package and Christian is the one to run that,” Edwards said. “He’s a strong kid with good speed. He also has good vision. He’s played about three years at quarterback in his life, so we knew he could do it.”
So Rodriguez took over the signal calling responsibility in the second half of the Dickinson game. The results were staggering.
Rodriguez carried the ball 12 times for 120 yards and completed five passes for 73 yards. More importantly, he guided the Kardinals to 34 unanswered points in the second half, keying Kearny’s gigantic 41-20 victory.
And the Kards are in position for their first-ever state playoff berth. If they win this weekend against Bayonne, the Kards are in. Simple as that. A loss last week would have destroyed those hopes.
So for his all-around effort, Rodriguez has been selected as The Observer Athlete of the Week for the past week.
Rodriguez said that he was up for the challenge to fill in at quarterback.
“I was once the starting quarterback and then I got moved to fullback,” Rodriguez said. “I was excited to get the chance to play quarterback again. It was fun.”
Football is always more enjoyable when your team is winning.
“He played a big part in the second half comeback,” Edwards said. “We had 230 yards rushing in the second half. He’s perfect at that position. The more experience he gets there, the better he is. If we need a short screen pass, he’s capable of doing it.”
Rodriguez said that the hardest part of the Wildcat offense is reading the opposition defensive formation.
“I have to try to find the reads,” Rodriguez said. “I can’t have anything distract me. I have to have the right vision so I can see the play develop.”
Rodriguez said that he has watched other Wildcat quarterbacks, like former New York Jet and Heisman Trophy winner Tim Tebow.
“I see them running it and it motivates me to want to do it as well as they did,” Rodriguez said. “It blew my mind how well we did it. We just ran the ball right in their faces and they couldn’t stop us.”
Rodriguez said that he never played organized football before entering Kearny High School.
“I was more into skateboarding,” Rodriguez said. “That was what I did.”
Rodriguez was also hanging out with a wrong crowd. It forced Rodriguez’s mother, Maria, to step forward and put her foot down.
“She wants me to go to college,” Rodriguez said. “I started to think I could play football in college. I learned my lesson and realized that I couldn’t hang out with the wrong kids. I had to make a change in my life.”
Rodriguez has played quarterback in a triple option offense, then a fullback and now a Wildcat QB. Defensively, Rodriguez has played linebacker and defensive end, but does not play defense when he’s calling the signals.
“I got a little taste of everything,” Rodriguez said. “I didn’t mind, because I love playing football. I like being with my teammates. They’re like my family. That’s why I stuck with it.”
Rodriguez is also a member of the Kearny wrestling team in the winter months.
“It helps my conditioning,” Rodriguez said of wrestling after football season is over. “It makes me stronger.”
Edwards likes what Rodriguez brings to the table.
“He’s a very respectful kid,” Edwards said. “He’s always at practice and he’s a very vocal kid. He’s become a leader.” That’s quite a compliment for someone who is only a junior.
“He also does well in the classroom,” Edwards said. “He’s the one getting us through the season.”
And yes, if the Kardinals get a win this weekend, they’re in the state playoffs for the very first time.
“None of these kids ever thought of being in the state playoffs,” Edwards said. “If we do win, we’re in. We definitely will talk about it. By telling them about it, it gives them something to shoot for. It’s good that this team is getting some recognition. They’re also getting some good support from the school and their families.”
Rodriguez was asked what it would be like to be part of the state playoffs.
“That would be so awesome,” Rodriguez said. “Next year, we’ll be even better. But this has been a fun year. I never expected all of this. “
Rodriguez has hopes of majoring in business management in college at either Montclair State or William Paterson. Of course, football will be a part of his life.
“I would love to play in college,” Robinson said. “I want to keep playing. Whatever position they want to put me at, I’ll play it. But this has been an awesome year. It’s one of the best years of my life.” And maybe the best is yet to come for Christian Rodriguez.