It was February of 2018 when John Rodriguez first made a name for himself.
At the time, Rodriguez was a sophomore on the Lyndhurst High School basketball team and the 6-foot-3 lanky forward shocked the world when he exploded for a school single game record of 51 points in a win over Harrison.
Now, almost two years later, Rodriguez, a senior at Lyndhurst, is opening eyes as an athlete once again.
But this time, Rodriguez is creating havoc as a two-way player – receiver and defensive back – for the Golden Bears of the gridiron.
Last Friday night, the undefeated Golden Bears shocked many of the state’s top predictors and pundits when they steamrolled another undefeated squad, Waldwick/Midland Park, 33-7, in the semifinals of the North Jersey Interscholastic Conference playoffs.
With the win, Lyndhurst advances to Friday night’s NJIC championship game when the Golden Bears will play host to another undefeated 7-0 team in Park Ridge with the game time set for 7 p.m.
If you attend the game, chances are you will catch a glimpse of Rodriguez right away, because he stands 6-foot-3, he wears lucky No. 13, he catches passes from his wide receiver slot and he is a devastating tackler and cover man as one of the best cover cornerbacks in the NJIC.
Last Friday, Rodriguez had his best game as a football player. He had two receptions for 54 yards – and both catches went for touchdowns, one coming on a halfback option pass from the brilliant Golden Bear running back Piotr “The Polish Assassin” Partyla.
Rodriguez also had two interceptions and took one to the house, giving him three touchdowns for the day.
Rodriguez also had two punt returns that totaled 70 yards.
The only thing Rodriguez didn’t do was sell hot dogs at halftime or hand out game programs. Other than that, he did it all.
For his efforts, Rodriguez has been selected as The Observer Athlete of the Week for the past week.
“The kid is a stud,” Lyndhurst head coach Rich Tuero said. “He’s a specimen. He’s 6-foot-3 and 220 pounds. Just the way he carries himself with his swag is impressive. He’s athletically gifted. Everyone knows what he can do with a basketball. He’s only been playing football since eighth grade, so he’s still raw. But no doubt, he’s a gifted player. He’s more of a finesse player, but Friday night, he was tough. He was picking kids up and driving them to the ground. He knows that we’re a run-first oriented offense, but he doesn’t say anything. He also has great hands.”
“We’re all trying hard to win a championship,” Rodriguez said. “I worked hard in the summer, lifting, running and running my routes with the quarterback (Anthony) Lembo. After our scrimmages were over, we knew that we were going to be pretty good. I really didn’t care if we didn’t throw the ball as long as we were winning. We are doing what we need to do to win.”
Rodriguez was confident that he would make the most of his two catches Friday, taking both receptions into the end zone.
“I just try to make sure that every time I had an opportunity to score, I did so,” Rodriguez said. “I just take the ball and go.”
Tuero is impressed with the way Rodriguez is playing.
“He has untapped potential,” Tuero said. “The kid can run. He has good speed. Whatever he wants to do, he’ll do it. He has the world in his hands. I keep telling him that.”
Tuero and Rodriguez have a long-standing relationship, going back to his grade school days.
“I have a good relationship with John,” Tuero said. “We’re very close. The ways we grew up were a lot alike. So I knew I would connect with him. He listens to me. I stay on top of him and that’s the reason why he listens. He knows who I am and knows the deal.”
And Rodriguez was ready to play some football this season.
“He knows the deal,” Tuero said. “He has not missed a single day of practice. Not one day. I mean zero. He has a quest. Seriously, he’s a sweet boy. He generally keeps to himself and has a lot of emotion. But he’s a good kid and he really brings it every day.”
Tuero is convinced that Rodriguez can play football in college, but there’s the temptation of the orange globe into the orange iron circle.
“I think he’s a great basketball player, but I don’t know that game,” Tuero said. “I know football and he can play.”
Rodriguez was asked what sport he liked better.
“Well, I always thought I was better in basketball,” Rodriguez said. “But I like to tackle.”
And get this: In the spring of 2020, Rodriguez is considering a return to baseball, a sport that he played when he was younger.
“I have friends who are asking me to come back and play baseball,” Rodriguez said. “I might do it. I don’t know yet. I’ll try anything. I want to be someone that the little kids can look up to.”
He already has the catchy name for baseball – one that would be the perfect combination of the loving couple of Jennifer Lopez and Alex Rodriguez. They can be called “J-Rod.” And so can our physical specimen of Lyndhurst.
“It feels good to be recognized,” Rodriguez said. “Right now, I just want to see if I can get a scholarship.”
Who knows? The college free ride may come from football, basketball or baseball – or a combination of all three. That’s the Lyndhurst version of “J-Rod,” looking to bring a championship home Friday night at 7 p.m. Be there to see history be made.
Lyndhurst senior DB/WR John Rodriguez. Photo by Jim Hague
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Jim Hague | Observer Sports Writer
Sports Writer Jim Hague was with The Observer for 20+ years — and his name is one of the most recognizable in all of sports journalism. The St. Peter’s Prep and Marquette alum kicked off his journalism career post Marquette at the Daily Record, where he remained until 1985. Following shorts stints at two other newspapers, in September 1986, he joined the now-closed Hudson Dispatch, where he remained until 1991, when its doors were finally shut.
It was during his tenure at The Dispatch that Hague’s name and reputation as one of country’s hardest-working sports reporters grew. He won several New Jersey Press Association and North Jersey Press Club Awards in that timeframe.
In 1991, he became a columnist for The Hudson Reporter chain of newspapers — and he remains with them to this day.
In addition to his work at The Observer and The Hudson Reporter, Hague is also an Associated Press stringer, where he covers Seton Hall University men’s basketball, New York Red Bulls soccer and occasionally, New Jersey Devils hockey.
He’s also doing work at The Morristown Daily Record, the very newspaper where his journalism career began.
During his career, he also worked for Dorf Feature Services, which provided material for the Star-Ledger. While there, he covered the New York Knicks and the New Jersey Nets.
Hague is also known for his announcing work — and he’s done PA work for Rutgers Newark and NJIT.
Hague is the author of the book “Braddock: The Rise of the Cinderella Man.”