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Former Land O'Lakes standout goes pro

John-Paul Rodrigues made history Jan. 24.

The No. 1 overall pick in the United Soccer Leagues' annual draft, Rodrigues, selected by Miami F.C., a 2006 expansion team, is the first player from Land O'Lakes to turn pro.

"It's pretty much a dream come true," said Rodrigues, a 2002 Land O'Lakes graduate who played three seasons at Belmont, a Division I school in Nashville, Tenn.

"When I left Land O'Lakes and started playing in college I imagined this could happen," he continued. "College is what really showed me I could play at the next level."

Rodrigues, 22, was a two-time all-Atlantic Sun Conference first-teamer and the conference's defensive player of the year as a senior.

He played three seasons at Belmont after red-shirting as a freshman due to a foot injury. An accounting major and one semester shy of a degree, Rodrigues plans to return in the offseason.

Rodrigues, a 6-foot-1, 180-pound sweeper, is visiting with his family in Lutz before his departure for Miami on March 14. The team plays a 28-game schedule from February-April and is one rung below Major League Soccer.

Rodrigues signed a one-year contract for about $3,000 a month and gets an apartment paid for by the team.

"I really have no expenses," he said. "I'm there to play soccer and it makes me happy."

Land O'Lakes coach Mark Pearson never doubted Rodrigues would play professionally.

"I knew that sooner or later he would move on to bigger and better things," Pearson said of his former four-year starter and co-captain for three seasons.

"He's really the complete package. He's got the size, he's got the speed and the technical ability."

Rodrigues anchored the Gator defense for four seasons and played on two state qualifiers.

He also played on recreational and competitive teams in the Central Pasco United Soccer Association and spent six seasons in Tampa Blackwatch's competitive program.