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'Pre-Rod' ready to step into spotlight

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'Pre-Rod' ready to step into spotlight

Sunday, August 13, 2006


Sports Reporter

AUBURN -- It was supposed to be a blocking technique, but receiver Prechae Rodriguez admits it was more like a punch that he launched into the shoulder pads of cornerback Jonathan Wilhite this week.

On the next play of the scrimmage, Rodriguez did the same thing.

"He let it go the first time, but the second time he didn't," Rodriguez said. "That's normal for us."

A brief scrap broke out, part of a rivalry that has been bubbling since the two players faced each other in junior colleges in Kansas.

"I don't want to let him beat me. He doesn't want to let me beat him," said Wilhite. "He'll bring the old junior-college stuff back up."

Rodriguez is fewer than two years removed from his Coffeyville, Kan., juco, but his situation has changed dramatically.

On Saturday morning, while senior Courtney Taylor rested a sprained knee, Rodriguez had more career receptions (13) than any other receiver on the practice fields.

And in contrast to Taylor's star-power, Rodriguez is still relatively unknown to casual fans.

"All the coaches expect a lot out of me, and I'm just trying my best to step up," Rodriguez said.

As for Taylor, there's still no definitive word on his knee injury, which is thought to be a mild sprain.

Taylor injured the knee early in team drills Friday. He had to be helped off the field, prompting a flurry of text messages and cell-phone calls that created a brief panic on the Internet.

Inside the trainers' tent, Taylor had a bag of ice on his right knee while laughing and talking to teammates. X-rays confirmed no serious tear, but Dr. James Andrews came down on Saturday for further tests.

Auburn coach Tommy Tuberville avoided speculation about how much time Taylor will miss.

Asked if Taylor would be ready for the Sept. 2 opener against Washington State, Tuberville said, "I would hope, but that's why they pay Dr. Andrews that much money to come down and look at it."

Taylor is more than one of the most recognizable and popular figures on Auburn's roster; he's also a vital part of the Tigers' offense.

Last year, Auburn's receiver rotation had three seniors -- Ben Obomanu, Devin Aromashodu and Anthony Mix. This year, Taylor is the only veteran with significant game experience.

With Taylor out, Rodriguez finds himself in the first real spotlight of his Auburn career.

"Pre-Rod," a nickname he picked up at Coffeyville, was a basketball standout at Jefferson High in Tampa, Fla. But his only season on the football team was as a freshman.

Still, recruiters were intrigued by his speed, athleticism and his long, lean, 6-foot-4 frame.

Auburn placed him at Coffeyville, where he attracted more attention from colleges during a solid 2004 season.

"It helped tremendously," Rodriguez said. "Junior college is a lot of competition. It's not as good as Division I, but it prepares you for Division I. It was a good stage for me since I didn't play that much in high school. I'm glad I went."

Even with more scholarship offers in hand, Rodriguez decided to stick with Auburn. He arrived on the Plains with three years to play three seasons. He caught 13 passes for 240 yards and a touchdown in 2005.

"He was not your typical freshman and not your typical juco guy, but a guy that can grow in our system and a guy that's capable of making big plays," said Auburn wide receivers coach Greg Knox.

In practice, Rodriguez tries to make those big plays against an old foe from his Kansas days.

"When we played Coffeyville, we game-planned for Prechae," said Wilhite, who was a juco All-American at Butler County. "He's a good receiver, with nice size and good feet. We still have that same rivalry."

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