Frankford’s Rodriguez returns from scary injury

Alex Rodriguez is in his second year as a starter at linebacker. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO

Alex Rodriguez was very upset, but it wasn’t because he lost the top of his middle finger.

It was because he wasn’t going to be able to finish the game.

Rodriguez is a senior on the Frankford High School football team and on Sept. 27 in a game against Abraham Lincoln, he suffered an injury that was scary, gruesome and painful.

“I was going to tackle someone in the hole, meet him in the hole, and our shoulder pads collided and my finger got caught,” Rodriguez recalled. “I didn’t know what happened, but the top of my finger just came off. Not sure how it happened really. It looked pretty bad. I wasn’t trying to think about it, I was more worried about getting in the game. But I couldn’t.

“I went to Nazareth Hospital and they helped me a lot. I had to have surgery. I was upset, but it wasn’t really about the finger. I was more upset because I couldn’t play football. That’s what upset me the most.”

Rodriguez had to go through a lot before he could get back with his teammates.

He had a skin graft, and skin was removed from his hand and put on the top of the finger on his left hand. Luckily, Rodriguez is a righty.

“It’s cool now,” Rodriguez said. “I won’t have a nail, but if you look at my finger, it looks like a finger. It doesn’t hurt. I feel really good. I just wanted to get back and they took care of me.”

Crazy as it sounds, Rodriguez lost only two games thanks to the injury. He returned to the field on Saturday in Frankford’s 34-7 loss to Ben Franklin in both teams’ regular season finales.

The loss wasn’t what the middle linebacker was hoping for, but he couldn’t be too upset. He was back doing what he loved with his second family.

“At first, before the game, I was really nervous,” said Rodriguez, who played with a pink club on his hand to protect his hand and made seven tackles. “I wasn’t scared, but you get nervous. Once the first play happened, I started feeling a lot better. After the first drive, I was back.”

The journey wasn’t an easy one.

But Rodriguez credits his teammates and coaches for helping him return.

While he couldn’t play, he was still around the team every chance he got. In fact, he had surgery on Oct. 10 and was supposed to stay home for the rest of the day. But he was able to sneak out and watch the end of the Pioneers’ 10-0 victory over Boys Latin. The game was tied at halftime and Rodriguez did his part to help the team.

It worked.

“I couldn’t play and I was drowsy, but I talked to them at halftime to get them fired up,” said Rodriguez, who is a captain. “I talked to them and in the second half, they started playing great. Defense played great the whole time, but the offense got going and we won. They’re a good team, too.”

Rodriguez loves his role as team captain. And it’s something he takes very seriously. It was a job he continued the entire time he was out, and one he’s happy he can do from the field for the rest of the season instead of on the sidelines.

“I think the guys on the team look up to me because I try to be a good leader,” Rodriguez said. “I try to be the heart of the team, to get everyone ready to play, and they follow me. We have good guys on this team. We have a good team. We’re getting better. We just can’t make mistakes. We try to correct them when we do.”

The improvement is noticeable.

Frankford had a rough 2018 campaign, winning just one game on the field. This year, the Pioneers have won four of their last six games and head into the playoffs with some momentum. They also have their leader back in the mix.

“This team can beat anyone, we just have to play smart and do what we’re supposed to do,” said Rodriguez, who lives in Juniata. “I really think we can beat anyone if we do what we have to do.”

It helps that they have their leader back.

“Having him back brings back a mental toughness to our defense,” said Frankford coach Bill Sytsma, whose team will meet Mastbaum next week in the playoffs. “Our guys look to him for leadership.

“I can’t begin to tell you how proud I am of him. As a matter of fact, if it were up to Alex, he would have been back the very next day. The kid lost part of a limb playing the game, and he couldn’t wait to get back. Not too many people are built with that kind of mentality.”

Rodriguez does well in school and hopes to play college football next year. He’s unsure about what he’s going to major in, and he’s also undecided if he’ll play baseball, a sport he has played in the past, for Frankford in the spring.

For now, he’s just working on getting back in game shape after missing a few games, and he also wants to keep wearing that Frankford jersey for as long as he can.

Nothing will keep him away from the game and the team he loves, not even a missing finger.

“I never thought about not coming back, not for a second,” Rodriguez said. “I knew I was coming back. I wanted to come back the day it happened, and I wanted to come back every day since. I was so happy to come back. I wanted to be here with them.

“I was nervous, but this wasn’t too bad. It looks good now and I’m able to play football, so I’m happy.”

To see highlights of Rodriguez’s season, visit www.hudl.com/profile/11522843/Alex-Rodriguez.