ELIZABETHTON — Imagine growing up in Los Angeles, attending a new school in the downtown area, being captain of the football team as a senior — and then waking up a few days later in a small town in Northeast Tennessee.
Jose Rodriguez doesn’t have to imagine that scenario because he’s living it right now.
About three weeks ago, the 16-yearold Rodriguez moved from the nation’s second largest city (population just under 4 million) to Elizabethton, where about 14,000 folks live.
“Going from California to Elizabethton just doesn’t happen every day,” said Elizabethton head football coach Shawn Witten, who can certainly relate to Rodriguez because he moved from the Washington, D.C., area to Elizabethton prior to starting high school. “It’s a huge culture shock. You go from a fast city where things are going and things are happening, and all of a sudden you’re in a different place.”
Rodriguez’s family — which includes two sisters, ages 15 and 8, and a brother who is 1½ years old — made the journey to escape the harsh realities that can come from living on the tough streets of south-central Los Angeles.
“Out there they have gangs and drugs and all that,” said Rodriguez. “It came to a point where you couldn’t even walk outside.”
But while he understood the reason his father decided to move across country and live with family in Elizabethton, Rodriguez said it didn’t make it an easy transition. “It was really hard to move, but we did it,” said Rodriguez, who previously attended Miguel Contreras Learning Complex, a high school that opened in 2006. “I was ready for my senior year where I had gone to school for three years. Now I’m at a school where I don’t know anybody.
“My dad said he thought we would be better off here. He is just looking out for us, and doesn’t want anything to happen. That’s one of the main reasons why we moved. It’s something new, and something I have to adjust to.”
One good thing for Rodriguez is the move didn’t take football away from him. He is a running back, corner back and kick returner — and might be the fastest player on the Cyclones’ team.
He didn’t play against Science Hill, but did see a few snaps in Friday’s 41-0 win over Happy Valley.
“I wasn’t really planning on playing football here,” said Rodriguez. “I was ready to quit, get my school work done and get to college.
“But my aunt encouraged me to try out. She talked to the coach. She is really kind and really helped me out. She is a good person.”
Witten said the coaching staff will try to find ways to get Rodriguez involved on the team without overloading him.
“We don’t know where he might fit in,” said Witten. “We’ve got to find a way where he can help us.
“The best thing is he’s such a great kid. I think the team has welcomed him.”
Rodriguez is ahead of the game academically, and only has to take two courses this semester. Because of Elizabethton’s new block schedule and the school’s early release program, his day is over around 1:15 p.m.
“I was used to having five or six classes and not getting out of school until 4 o’clock,” said Rodriguez.
The extra time he has on his hands isn’t necessarily a great thing. Elizabethton can’t compete with Los Angeles when it comes to “stuff to do.”
“It is really tough,” said Rodriguez. “Although Los Angeles is a pretty tough place to live, there are more things to do with your friends. “There’s not much to do here. But it’s calm and there are no problems.”
One thing that immediately caught Rodriguez’s attention was the friendliness of area people. “People always greet you and say hi,” said Rodriguez, who added that his younger siblings are adjusting to the move more smoothly than him. “Everybody is really nice.”
And his teammates have helped him make adjustments.
“All of the guys on the team are pretty cool,” said Rodriguez. “I’m getting along with the guys and making friends.” Rodriguez said he wants to be a good teammate. “I just want to work hard and help the team win,” said Rodriguez.