HAMPTON — When it comes to Hampton High School, the community is buzzing with excitement about the postseason for the first time in school history, but there has been a secret floating around the team for some time.

The Hornets have players of all ages and sizes from very diverse backgrounds, but the player wearing No. 16 this season may be the most unique athlete on the team.

Enter Monica Rodriguez, the team’s wide receiver and safety. Rodriguez has played this season for the Hornets, but it’s her first year playing amongst athletes who’ve played, for the most part, since they were 7 years old.

Rodriguez did have to adjust to being around the guys on the field though. She’s used to sports, having played soccer for Hampton before strapping on the pads but getting used to the guys was, in her words, weird.

“At first it was weird, really weird,” Rodriguez recalled.

“They all looked at me weird, but then it became normal and they treat me like one of the boys now. I’m basically like their sister, that’s what they call me, and you really do everything like a family. They don’t treat me any different than they would anybody else. They make me work just as hard.”

Of course, she had to consult with her parents first before she took to the field.

“My stepdad supports me,” Rodriguez said. “My mom was really shocked at first. She was telling me she didn’t want me to get hurt but she knew I was determined and let it go.”

She’s been tasked with working just as hard as anybody else in the season for the year. As the time passed, the shock of her playing with them subsided and the expectations changed to her being able to keep up all the time.

Rodriguez isn’t just a player who is on the offensive line blocking a quarterback, she’s also a wide receiver and safety. Two of the hardest positions to play as she’s tasked with catching a ball with a defense bearing down on her and stopping an opposing receiver from getting free over top.

But it’s a given, her muscle mass of another safety/wideout of the same height, weight and age is just different. That doesn’t stop her from going out and performing to the best of her ability.

“As long as you work hard and stay dedicated it shouldn’t matter,” Rodriguez said. “Your opponent should always be someone who you think is better than you. If you face someone who is equal, you’re going to stay the same. And the boys are most definitely competitive, and they push me to be my best.”

Football is a full-contact sport and Rodriguez knows that but it’s not as different to her like soccer. Soccer has contact often, but the only thing not allowed is a full body wrap up. Getting used to wrapping up defenders and being wrapped up in tackles took her a minute to get used to.

“It took a minute to get used to being hit but it’s fine,” Rodriguez said. “Coach (Chad) Ashley said that it’s not always going to be easy but it’s all going to be worth it. And it’s most definitely proven to be worth it.”

Sports Editor

Graduated from South Carolina State University in 2015. Been with the Henry Herald and Clayton News in two capacities as a sports journalist and interim sports editor.

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