ORANGE PARK - Over the past two or so weeks, the Matthew Rodriguez wrestling following has hinted that Ridgeview High wrestler Matthew Rodriguez would be announcing his choice to continue wrestling …
ORANGE PARK - Over the past two or so weeks, the Matthew Rodriguez wrestling following has hinted that Ridgeview High wrestler Matthew Rodriguez would be announcing his choice to continue wrestling in college with a few more teams on the original roster.
When asked “How do you like snow?” prior to his ceremony to announce, Rodriguez smiled and said, “I used to live in Pennsylvania so I’m used to snow.”
With Lehigh his initial first choice and Penn State capable of snow, Rodriguez, in the end, chose to stay with Lehigh University to continue his wrestling career.
“It was definitely the comfortability of the program and the degree program,” said Rodriguez. “I felt very at home with the coaching staff at Lehigh.”
Rodriguez, twice the Class 1A runnerup and a third place finisher as a freshman, has had Lehigh University as his initial choice nearly a year ago, but recent camps and visits to campus put the likes of Penn State, Oregon State and Arizona State all on Rodriguez’ list.
“The past few years, I have learned the discipline attached to the sport with things like cutting weight, consistent training and eating right,” said Rodriguez, who currently has 204 wins, eight losses and 154 pins with a senior season to come. “Wrestling has definitely helped build me to the person I am today.”
In 2020, Rodriguez finished at 60-1 with his lone loss the 126 final against Lake Highland Prep’s Danny Nini.
In 2019, Rodriguez finished at 54-1 with his lone loss in the Class 2A 106 final; a 2-1 loss to Kai Owen of Tampa Jesuit.
In 2018, Rodriguez finished at 41-1 with a 3-0 semfinal loss in the Class 2A 106 bracket to Lake Gibson champion Chase Ayers. Rodriguez would compete through the wrestlebacks to win the third place match with a 10-0 win.
In 2017, as an eighth grader at University Christian, Rodriguez finished at 41-5 and lost in the consolation quarterfinals.
With the firepower of multiple national champion Penn State on his table, with Oregon State and Arizona State, both top ranked wrestling programs, Lehind University, with a history of 28 NCAA champion individuals, 158 NCAA All-Amerians and 16 to five NCAA team finishes in the last decade or so, was high on Rodriguez list for a few reasons.
Note: In a listing of individual national champions per school, Oklahoma State tops the list at 142 with Penn State at 44 and Lehigh at 28 with Iowa, Iowa State and Oklahoma in between Oklahoma Stat and Lehigh in sixth place.
Rodriguez’ level of excellence at the state level had an early start with his eighth grade season at University Christian, also with a state meet visit, a formidable stepping stone to his career at Ridgeview High.
“I realized that, after going to the state meet, and then traveling to wrestle and beat top dudes from other states, that I may have found the sport for me,” said Rodriguez, who won four district titles and three region titles. “That’s when it kind of hit me that noone else should beat me unless I make a mistake.”
Rodriguez noted that he learned a little bit more each time he competed in at the state meet, although his opponents were all nationally ranked wrestlers from
Rodriguez sees his experiences in high school, with near misses at the state championships, only strengthens his notion to get to college and use the setbacks as motivation.
“I know that going against those guys that can handle me and rough me up a bit at the college level will be something that won’t deter me,” said Rodriguez. “I can only learn from guys who have won titles.”
Rodriguez named former teammate and Ridgeview High assistant coach Saeid Ejmali as a top advisor through the last three years as a Panther.
Emjali, a state placer in his senior year, has sat in the Panthers corner of the mat with Panther head coach Bart Rodriguez, yes, Matt’s dad. Ejmali was also a teammate during Rodriguez’ freshman and sophomore seasons.
“He is very motivational to me in the things he says and he has been there before as a competitor,” said Rodriguez. “He knew what it took to get to the state meet and win some matches.”