LINCOLN, Neb. – Andrew Rodriguez has had his patience tested at Nebraska.
The offensive lineman showed up in 2010 as one of the Cornhuskers' most celebrated recruits. He came out of 2012 wondering if he would ever fulfill the expectations that followed him to Lincoln.
"It's the worst feeling when you're told you have all this potential and it's not coming out," he said. "It eats away at you. Is it my effort? What is it? Once you figure it out, you start to see the positive things coming out. It's smooth sailing from here."
Coaches and teammates say Rodriguez, a self-described introvert, has exuded confidence in preseason practices. Asked about that, Rodriguez said it's the result of his gaining a firm grasp of the no-huddle offense and developing the endurance needed to stay on the field for more than a couple of plays at a time.
When the 18th-ranked Huskers open against Wyoming on Saturday, the 6-foot-6, 330-pound Rodriguez is projected to be their starting right tackle.
"This has been his best camp," coach Bo Pelini said, "and he's probably playing the best football he's ever played right now, which I'm pretty excited about."
Rodriguez appeared in every game last season, starting one but generally working as the third tackle in a three-man rotation.
After Nebraska's loss to Georgia in the Capital One Bowl, offensive line coach John Garrison told Rodriguez it was time for him to show everyone why he was a four-star recruit coming out of Aurora (Neb.) High.
"It would be really disappointing for me, as a coach, to have that talent and that potential and to throw it aside," Garrison said. "It's time for me to take the poke and poke him in the side and get him going. That's what I've done."
Rodriguez has had obstacles. A foot injury sidelined him the second half of his sophomore season, and he had to adjust to the move from guard to tackle before last season. At the same time, the Huskers were transitioning in earnest to their hurry-up offense, and Rodriguez's conditioning was lacking.
"A bigger guy like that, if you're not used to it...," Garrison said.
Though Rodriguez's understanding of angles and other nuances of line play has improved, Garrison said, he remains relatively inexperienced in the sport.
Rodriguez moved from New York City to Aurora (pop. 4,400) when he was 13. Family circumstances necessitated that he be taken in by his half-brother and sister-in-law in the town an hour west of Lincoln on Interstate 80.
Rodriguez had never played football before his arrival but was encouraged to do so because of his mammoth build.
"Andrew came in to the elementary school with a big Afro and a comb in his hair. He was a fellow that did not go unseen," Aurora coach Randy Huebert wrote in an email. "He started coming to the kids' football camp we had and he seemed to like the sport. Andrew also excelled in the weight room and became a steady worker, which really helped him develop."
Off the field, there was considerable culture shock. Understandably, he was unfamiliar with the ways of Nebraskans. Huebert recalled that when the team went out for dinner his freshman year, Rodriguez needed a tutorial on the differences between ordering a steak rare, medium or well.
Rodriguez dominated on the offensive and defensive lines in the small-school ranks because of his size and brute strength. He was listed as the top prospect in the state and one of the 25 best offensive tackles in the country.
"Not surprised on Andrew taking some time to blossom," Huebert wrote. "He has always had the physical tools, but only a portion of athletes have gone through a life like Andrew had growing up (prior to coming to Aurora)."
Rodriguez working his way to the top of the depth chart is no small feat, given that Nebraska has its most experienced offensive line in Pelini's six seasons.
Rodriguez said Garrison's challenge after the bowl game made him realize time is running out on his college career. He increased the amount of time he spent in film study during the off-season, and he dedicated himself to improving physically so he can stay on the field for longer stretches.
"It's my last year. I have nothing to lose, honestly," he said. "The last year I can just have fun with the seniors, with my teammates I came in with and have fun playing the game you love."