St. Thomas Aquinas has won the Florida state title in seven of the past nine seasons. They finished the 2022 season as a top-10 team in the country, according to USA Today. The program has produced multiple blue chip recruits in every recruiting class since 2013.
So, when a player from this program is interested in attending the University of Missouri, well, it creates some buzz. When that player commits to Mizzou?
Yeah, this one is worth celebrating.
The player is 4-star outside linebacker Nicholas Rodriguez. He committed to Missouri after reportedly taking other visits to Louisville, Ohio State and West Virginia. He produced 93 tackles, 10 for loss, five sacks, one interception, two fumble recoveries and two forced fumbles last season.
Rodriguez is one of five St. Thomas Aquinas blue chip recruits in the 2024 class, along with Mizzou wide receiver target James Madison. Rodriguez’s other teammate, 3-star defensive tackle Justin Bodford, joined Rodriguez in Columbia for their official visits the weekend of June 23rd.
Landing a target like this is not easy. St. Thomas Aquinas’ success as a program means it’s a destination for college coaches both near and far. It’s a one-stop shop for the best programs in the country to find future stars at the collegiate level. Mizzou has never landed a player from the program. Until now.
Alright, enough of the hype. Let’s take a deeper look at how Rodriguez fits into Misosuri’s future plans.
Where he fits: I don’t know if it’s the jersey number (24) or the playing style — likely a combination of both — but it’s impossible for me to ignore the comparisons between Rodriguez and former Mizzou linebacker Terez Hall.
Rodriguez, like Hall, is an agent of chaos. He diagnoses plays remarkably quickly, makes plays behind the line and he’s more than capable of playing against the pass both as a blitzer and in coverage.
Rodriguez isn’t as long or as big as some of Missouri’s previous linebacker commits, but what he lacks in size he more than makes up for in instincts. He diagnoses plays the way Nick Bolton did in his time at Missouri. But he does so with a completely different level of athleticism. He’ll fit in nicely as the WIL linebacker in Missouri’s defense, playing a similar role to what Ty’Ron Hopper filled in 2022.
When he’ll play: It’s rare for a linebacker to come in and contribute right away, but Rodriguez has the potential to do exactly that. I’m not suggesting he’ll be an instant starter, but he could serve as a depth piece at linebacker and a mainstay on special teams. The Tigers are expected to lose Chuck Hicks, Chad Bailey and Hopper at the end of this season.
Let me put this a different way. A player with Rodriguez’s options doesn’t commit to Mizzou randomly. He sees what we all see. He sees opportunity. It will be up to him to take advantage of that opportunity in order to translate his potential into production.
What it all means: This is quite the get for Eli Drinkwitz. In fact, the only defensive commit I think you could put on this level since the 2021 class is Marquis Gracial. Missouri just doesn’t go into Florida and get one of the top-rated players from one of the top-rated programs in the country. Doing so speaks highly to the sales pitch this staff is putting together for prospective recruits.
Rodriguez is the eighth known commit for the Tigers’ 2024 class, and the fifth in the past four days. The “Gold Rush” visit weekend is paying significant dividends.