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LARGO — As the final seconds ticked away in last week’s regular-season finale win over Palm Harbor University, the Largo High football players bared their emotions. They smiled broadly as they slapped each other and yelled, “This one was for Alex.”
Alex Rodriguez’s name has been invoked a great deal by the Packers in the past three weeks. He was a starter on Largo’s offensive line for three seasons and helped the football program reach the state semifinals two of the past three years.
Now, the 2010 graduate is in a hospital bed at Bayfront Medical Center, his left leg amputated below the knee after a serious motorcycle accident Oct. 28 nearly killed him.
Last week’s regular-season finale was dedicated to him, as is tonight’s Class 4A region quarterfinal against Hillsborough. Before the game, Packers faithful will gather in the parking lot for a tailgate party, offering prayers and soliciting donations to help Rodriguez in his rehabilitation.
“It was a shock when we all heard about it,” said senior Largo lineman George Koceja, who has known Rodriguez for years. “Alex is a good friend of mine. It put everything in perspective when he got hurt. I know I’m playing for him. I’m pretty sure everyone else is, too.”
Rodriguez, 19, was hit from the side by another car and broke the tibia, fibula and femur in his left leg. Soon after, he was transported to Bayfront Medical Center, where he had surgery that night to insert plates and reset the leg.
“My heart dropped at first,” said Largo coach Rick Rodriguez, Alex’s uncle. “Then when I found out it was a broken leg, I was relieved. I thought everything was going to be all right.”
But Alex’s prognosis quickly changed. He developed acute compartment syndrome in his lower leg. The tissue was dying from a lack of oxygen, and soon after his kidneys started to fail.
“We left Alex on a Friday and came back on a Sunday,” Rodriguez said. “Doctors told us when we arrived they were surprised he made it through the night. It was pretty touch and go for a while.”
Doctors tried to save the leg but had to amputate it. Alex was placed in a medically induced coma that lasted until Tuesday.
“The doctors and the whole staff were phenomenal,” Rodriguez said. “They did everything they could and helped him come through this.”
Still, the injury was a blow to the family. Alex had a 3.0 GPA at Largo and offers to play football from several Division III schools. He had turned them down because he wasn’t ready to go to college, Rodriguez said.
Instead, Alex worked with plans of playing in the future. Now he faces months of rehabilitation, a tough task considering his father, Jose, is out of town many weeks as a truck driver.
“The rehab will be tough because Alex was an offensive lineman, so he isn’t a little guy,” Rodriguez said. “I’ve been doing everything I can to help out. I raised $1,000 just in my neighborhood the past week.”
For most of the season, the Packers (7-3) have had to deal with injuries on the field. Quarterback Juwan Brown was lost for the season with a knee injury. Leading rusher Jarvis Stewart missed last week’s game with a bruised shoulder.
But Alex’s ordeal put everything in perspective.
“We’ve had some guys who have gone down,” Koceja said. “But those injuries will heal. This is more serious. Alex will never get his leg back.”
It was a tough thing for many of the upperclassmen, who were still reeling from the loss of basketball player LeShawn Smith, who died in a car accident along with three other students from Seminole in April 2009.
“I really didn’t think Alex’s injury was real,” said junior lineman Cellen Phillips, who took Alex’s spot in the lineup this season. “It’s hard to comprehend. I knew LeShawn and he was one of two friends I’ve already lost. I didn’t want to lose another one. So when I heard
Alex was stable it was a huge relief.”
The Packers’ thoughts will be with Alex Friday, but here are no signs, no decals placed on their helmets in his honor. Instead, Largo players will dedicate the game to their former teammate through their efforts on the field.
“We want to play hard and we want to win,” Phillips said. “We want to do that for Alex.”
Photo courtesy of the Rodriguez family