Batesville’s Joey Rodriguez played alongside his older brother Javier Rodriguez in the Pioneers’ linebacking corps last season. The duo helped guide Batesville to the Class 5A state championship game.
Batesville lost that title game 28-10, and the elder Rodriguez graduated this spring. Now Joey is a senior, readying for his final season as a member of the Pioneer football team. And Javier’s parting football advice to Joey on how to enjoy his senior season was simple.
“Attack,” Joey Rodriguez recalled his brother said.
Aggressive action on the football field is a characteristic Joey Rodriguez knows well. Since first playing for the Pioneers as a freshman in the 2010 playoffs, he has racked up more than 300 tackles, including a sophomore season when he collected 69 unassisted tackles and 76 assisted tackles and three sacks, earning him a spot on the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette’s Super Sophomore Team. In 2012, Rodriguez was in on approximately 140 tackles, both unassisted and assisted.
Ask Rodriguez what his strengths are as a football player, and his answer is succinct: He reads plays well, and he hits people. What more does a coach want from a linebacker?
“Joey is cut out of the same cloth as Javier,” said Dave King, head coach of the Pioneers, whose teams have won 141 games. “[Joey’s] a very physical player. He’s a heady player and knows the game. He’s got a good FBI, you know, football intelligence. He understands the game and knows what our defensive coordinator wants out of him. He understands what we are trying to do, and he gets that across to the other kids.”
But the 5-9, 185-pound Rodriguez, who reports a 4.9 second time in the 40, is not just a defensive stalwart for the Pioneers. Last season, Rodriguez ran for more than 600 yards and 15 touchdowns. After now-graduated tailback Phillip Archuleta was injured in the Pioneers’ Class 5A state semifinals game against Pulaski Academy, Rodriguez ran for 144 yards and four touchdowns as the Pioneers defeated the Bruins 40-21.
“On the other side of the ball, Joey carried the ball a lot when we had injuries at tailback,” King said. “We’d rather not play him early, because it is hard to play linebacker and running back, but Joey’s a very capable running back. He’s a tough, downhill runner, and we are going to try to rest him as much as possible. But as the year goes on, if we need him to run the ball, he’ll be in there offensively as well.”
The 2013 Batesville Pioneers aren’t returning a lot of starting experience from their 10-4 season, with only three starters returning on offense and four on defense. All of the skill-position players on offense are new, but King said the new starters “have gotten playing time.” With deep runs into the playoffs in 2011 and 2012, the Pioneers have played 28 games in two seasons, and the team has “got kids who weren’t starters who got quite a lot of experience,” King said.
The 2013 Pioneers will depend on their offensive line and their quickness to the ball on defense to get deep into the playoffs again, but the team goals remain the same.
“Our team goals,” King said, “are always the same: to win the district championship, to win a state championship and to carry on the tradition that has been established here. That’s our three goals, and do it the right way.”
The state-finals defeat last season was the second consecutive year the Pioneers lost the last game of the Class 5A season. In 2011, Batesville finished 11-3 but lost to Greenwood in the state-championship game. Those defeats have left the Pioneers hungry for a better end to their 2013 season, King said.
“We’ve been beaten in the state finals in ’11 and ’12, so we’ve been there and done that,” he said. “At the same time, what you did last year and the year before has nothing to do with this year. Still, it is something as a program that our kids take pride in, and being at our best at the end of the year when we get into the playoffs.”
Leading that charge for another shot at the Class 5A state title will be Rodriguez. He said colleges haven’t contacted him about playing next year, so he realizes this season might be his last as a football player.
“I kind of have high standards,” he said. “I feel pretty good about this season. I want to help us get to the state finals.”
King doesn’t expect anything less than complete effort from his ball-hawking inside linebacker.
“Joey is one of our team leaders,” King said. “He is the leader on defense. He’s not only a vocal leader, but he leads by example.
“Joey is the kind of kid who … came up as a ninth-grader in the playoffs and has basically been a starter ever since. He’s got a lot of experience. He understands what we want and how we are trying to get it.”