Next track in life: College lies ahead for 'Danny the Jet'WORTHINGTON — If you ask Danny Rodriguez how he would describe himself, he’s apt to say he’s just “an average guy who likes to go to the gym and have fun, play video games, watch movies and hang out with my friends.”
By: Jane Turpin Moore, Worthington Daily Globe
WORTHINGTON — If you ask Danny Rodriguez how he would describe himself, he’s apt to say he’s just “an average guy who likes to go to the gym and have fun, play video games, watch movies and hang out with my friends.”
But this member of the Worthington High School Class of 2012 is more singular than he lets on, living up to the nickname “Danny the Jet” on the track and having been selected WHS Homecoming King last fall — after already having been chosen the male Homecoming Court representative for his class in each of the previous three years.
His modesty, combined with an ever-present megawatt smile and a straightforward gaze, is likely part of what has endeared him to classmates, coaches and teachers alike.
“People just tell me I’m nice to them, and I’m really a laid-back guy — I just let things flow,” mused Rodriguez. “If someone says hi to me, I’ll say, ‘Hey, how’s it going.’ I’m not snotty, and I’ll talk to pretty much anyone.”
Months later, Rodriguez still can’t quite believe he was the school’s choice for the Homecoming King honor, but he admits it was gratifying.
“I didn’t know people still cared for me as much as they did, so it was kind of nice to get to be king,” he said in his typically understated manner.
It’s also “nice” Rodriguez is such a fast sprinter that he has helped lead the WHS state-qualifying track team as a freshman, sophomore and junior, and is on pace to do so again this season if he stays healthy.
Just this past Tuesday, at the Fulda Invitational track meet in Slayton, Rodriguez won both the 100- and 200-meter dashes (in 11.61 and 23.06 seconds, respectively), and played a key role on the winning boys’ 4 x 200-meter relay team. In addition, he was on the WHS 4 x 200-meter relay team that set a record at the Dakota Relays in 2011.
“Track is my favorite sport,” admitted Rodriguez, who was also a standout running back in football and gave wrestling a try for a few years, too. “I injured a hamstring toward the end of each of the last two seasons, so I’m not long jumping right now — too much pressure on the hamstrings — but my goal this spring is to make it to state uninjured and at my healthiest.”
Ken Henkels, co-coach of the WHS track team with Doug Brands, has nothing but praise for Rodriguez, both due to his talent and his attitude.
“He’s just a super kid,” attested Henkels, remembering that Rodriguez acquired his “Danny the Jet” nickname while in Henkels’ Worthington Middle School tech class. “‘Benny the Jet,’ a character in the movie “The Sandlot,” was “just like Danny — very fast,” recalled Henkels.
“Danny always has a smile on his face, and he’s struggled with a few injuries, but he’s never let that get him down,” Henkels continued. “He treats other kids really well, is a great track athlete and has been a good role model for his peers, proving that if you work hard, you can excel at sports and at school.”
Indeed, Rodriguez spent time last summer working with the YMCA’s youth track program. He enjoys learning and has done well academically, saying he believes his cumulative grade point average as graduation approaches is around 3.5.
“I’ve liked every class at high school, from psychology to astronomy,” noted Rodriguez. “I have had a lot of teachers that I’ve liked, too.”
Rodriguez aspired to study engineering at the University of Minnesota, but found his ACT scores fell a little short of the entrance standards there. However, he is planning to attend Minnesota State University-Mankato next fall and still intends to pursue a civil engineering major.
“I’m curious about what will happen at college — I might change my mind about majors,” admitted Rodriguez. “I’m hoping I might run track there, or I might get a part-time job and just focus on school.”
Work is something with which Rodriguez is quite familiar; besides his stints with the YMCA youth sports program, he has been a cook at Hardee’s for nearly four years, and typically works about 22 hours a week, despite his athletic and scholastic commitments.
“They asked me to become a supervisor, but I said no because I didn’t want to miss out on sports,” Rodriguez said. He was drawn to employment at Hardee’s because two of his best friends — Michael Garcia and Javier Vasquez — worked there.
Sometimes at Hardee’s, Rodriguez is called upon to assist Spanish speakers at the counter — and he manages, but not as well as some might guess.
“I was born in Worthington, then my parents moved around a little when I was younger before we moved back here from Owatonna when I was in sixth grade,” detailed Rodriguez. “Worthington is my home, and all my family is here.”
Rodriguez, who has two younger siblings and one older brother, is the son of Rafael and Luisa Rodriguez; Luisa works as an interpreter at Avera Worthington Specialty Clinic.
“I’ve never been to Mexico, but my mom was from Guadalajara and my dad was from Chihuahua,” explained Rodriguez. “I’m really not totally fluent in Spanish, but I know enough to get by. People tell me my accent isn’t right, and my dad says I sound like a white boy who is trying to learn the language. My mom corrects me on my Spanish, and I correct her English.”
Rodriguez is looking forward to attending the WHS prom one last time next weekend with longtime girlfriend Amanda Arroyo, a 2011 WHS graduate.
“She chose a pink dress, so I’ll have to wear a tux with some pink,” grinned Rodriguez. “I’m excited about prom; it’s always a fun night.”
Recently, Rodriguez had a chance to meld his cooking skills with his communication abilities when, as part of the Advanced Foods class at WHS, he participated as a team member in the Culinary Skills Challenge at SMSU and walked away with second prize.
Commented teacher Bonnie Bents, “Danny is such a gentleman and I enjoy his hard work and cooperative spirit in class. The recent cooking team, with Danny, Matt Poppema, Javier Vasquez and Diana Phrom, took second place at the annual Culinary Skills Challenge and received many excellent comments on their calmness and efficiency in working together. They were each told by the professional chef [judging there] that he would hire them, based on their performance at the event.”
But when Rodriguez gets to Mankato for college, “I want to try a different type of job,” he said. “I’m getting tired of cooking for work, and it’s all burgers at Hardee’s.”
While Rodriguez has enjoyed his years at WHS, he sees college as a chance to get a fresh perspective on things without being too far from home.
“I’m looking forward to making new friends and experiencing new things at college,” assured Rodriguez. “My younger siblings? Yeah, I’ll miss them, they’re fun people and I’m lucky to have them as family, but you gotta do what you gotta do, and I’m ready to go.
“I’m sure I’ll miss all my friends, because once we graduate I won’t be able to see them as much. I’ve had a pretty good experience at WHS.”