ST. LOUIS — Freddie Rodriguez can score points. Boy can the Southern Illinois-Edwardsville senior 125-pound senior wrestler score points.
When he steps on the mat, he is like a human pinball machine. Big, two points. Boing, four points. Cha-ching, four more points.
Rodriguez, a national champion for Iowa Lakes Community College two years ago, was back at it Thursday morning at the NCAA Division I Wrestling Championships at the Scotttrade Center.
And Rodriguez, who has one of the highest-scoring rates in the nation, was racking up the points like there is no tomorrow.
Rodriquez scored plenty of points, 19 to be exact, in rolling to a 19-4 technical fall in just 4 minutes, 49 seconds of action in a match against Vito Pasone of Appalachian State in his opening match. Rodriguez scored six takedowns and six near-fall points in the win.
The fact that Rodriguez scored so many points should come as no surprise. He is averaging 13.3 points in his 19 matches which didn’t end in a pin, pushing the pace at every opportunity.
“That’s what I grew up on. We always emphasized conditioning. It doesn’t matter how far you are down in the third period. If you have that gas tank you can score four takedowns in the third and that will be big. That’s just something we’ve always implemented. That’s the Michigan style, just high pace, come at you at a high pace for seven minutes straight,” Rodriguez said. “The more forward you come, the higher your pace is, there’s going to be a little more openings here and there and they may capitalize on it. But I’m comfortable going into a match down five points in the third period because I’m going to keep pushing away and they’ll eventually break at some point or another. I score something big. Just constantly looking to go forward. You’re going to have more openings where kids can score because you’re putting yourself out there rather than worrying about your position and stuff like that.”
Rodriguez learned the score points and wrestle at a high pace at a young age. He was a three-time Michigan state champion at Lansing Everett High School and set the state tournament record for largest margin of victory in a 29-11 win.
Rodriguez landed at Iowa Lakes, where he not only won a national championship, but also was named Iowa Lakes’ Male Athlete of the Year in 2015.
Rodriguez landed at Oklahoma in the fall of 2015, but quickly realized that wasn’t the place for him. He soon found his way north to Southern Illinois-Edwardsville, where he has found a perfect home.
“Josh Spates was my mentor when I was at Oklahoma University. It just didn’t end up being a good fit for me for what I wanted to do,” Rodriguez said. “His son is the coach at SIU-Edwardsville, so there was a connection there so I checked it out and I really liked how close the team was. I felt like maybe Oklahoma wasn’t quite as close. I could just tell they were a lot closer at SIU-Edwardsville. That’s what I needed. I don’t have a good family support, so I need a good support system where I’m at.”
Rodriguez made s smooth transition to the Division I level, becoming the first Cougars wrestler to win two matches at the national tournament, going 17-3 last year. Not surprisingly, 10 of his 17 wins were by fall, technical fall or major decision.
For Rodriguez, it’s all about overcoming adversity, something he has done his entire life, both on and off the mat.
“Overcoming adversity is something I’ve done my entire life. Just having good coaches around in junior college and then at DI. In junior college you might not get the results you want, but as long as you keep plugging away and plugging away, the results will come and it will show what you’ve done,” Rodriguez said.
“It’s about the same adjustment I made when I went from high school to junior college and from junior college to Division I. You have to make adjustments. You have to overcome adversity in the room. You have to overcome adversity on the mat. It’s the same thing as it was before. Just constantly looking to get better and improve things that we need to work on and get a little bigger this year. It’s just another jump. There’s more obstacles that you have to overcome, which is nothing I’m not used to.”
Two years ago, Rodriguez helped put Iowa Lakes on the wrestling map. Now, he wants to do the same for SIU-Edwardsville, which recently made the transition to the NCAA Division I level.
“Being a part of Iowa Lakes and helping them get on the map and helping out wherever I can at SIU is big,” Rodriguez said. “My goal this year is to win it. That’s the same as it always has been is to win. It’s the same goal, but maybe last year I wasn’t as confident in how hard I could wrestle for seven minutes. This year I’m confidence in how hard I can go for seven minutes. I was going balls to the wall the entire time. I just know that no one in this country can keep up with me at that pace, not even (Iowa’s Thomas) Gilman.”