Last Friday was a surreal moment for new Washington Commanders running back Chris Rodriguez Jr.
Like the rest of the 259 players who were able to continue their football career over the weekend, playing in the NFL has been a lifelong goal for Rodriguez. From the time he was growing up in McDonough, Georgia, he had a dream of getting a call from a head coach saying he was going to be drafted, and when the 193rd overall pick came around in the 2023 NFL Draft, the Commanders made that aspiration come true.
But that's not the only reason Rodriguez is excited to wear the Burgundy & Gold. He gets to be in the same backfield as Antonio Gibson, who also grew up in McDonough, and whether Gibson knows it or not, Rodriguez has closely followed his career for years.
"I watch everything he does," Rodriguez told reporters after he was drafted.
Check out the top photos from Kentucky running back Chris Rodriguez's college career. (Photos via The Associated Press)
Rodriguez and Gibson played at rival high schools, Ola and Eagle's Landing, respectively. They didn't play each other much -- Gibson was a senior when Rodriguez was a freshman -- but Rodriguez knew all about Gibson and what he had accomplished in his career with the Eagles.
During the final two seasons of his high school career, Gibson had 2,680 total yards, 3,132 all-purpose yards and 30 touchdowns.
"I looked up to him kind of, I would say, when I was a freshman because when we played him, he was the guy on their team," Rodriguez said.
Gibson went on to play for East Central Community College before joining Memphis, and while he was busy being an offensive weapon for the Tigers, Rodriguez followed in his footsteps and put together a successful high school campaign as well. He rushed for 4,730 yards and 66 touchdowns in his sophomore, junior and senior seasons combined, earning him scholarship offers from the likes of Kentucky, Ole Miss and Mississippi State.
When he got to Kentucky, the production continued from there. He ended his time with the Wildcats as one of the most prolific running backs in program history, ranking third in career rushing yards (3,644) and rushing touchdowns (32). He also broke a school record with 20 100-yard games.
"Adding a physical player in Christopher is a guy that, talking to Eric [Bieniemy] and what Eric wants to do and how he wants to use him, in Eric's mind, this is a guy that will fit what he wants," said head coach Ron Rivera. "And so, we're pretty excited about being able to pick him. We had a higher grade on him, too, as well. So, we thought we got a lot of value here."
The Commanders feel good about what they have in Gibson and Brian Robinson Jr. The have complementary styles -- Gibson is the perimeter threat to Robinson's downhill battering ram -- but with J.D. McKissic's release, they did need a third running back in the rotation. Rodriguez is excited to add his skill set to the group.
"There's not gonna be a day that I take a day off," he said. "I'm not gonna take a rep off. This is something I've been dreaming for my whole life and it's coming true, so it's time to get to it."
And it's an added bonus that he gets to live out his NFL dreams while playing alongside one of his childhood role models.
"Who would've ever thought that I would be playing next to him?"