Arizona Football

Former Sunnyside Standout Ted “T.J.” Rodriguez Jr. On Going from Walk-On at Arizona to Gaining Respect from Dick Tomey: “Coaching Always About People First”

EDITOR NOTE: Ted “T.J.” Rodriguez wrote the following account about his experience being part of the Arizona program under the late Dick Tomey, who yesterday had the practice fields on campus named in his honor. Rodriguez is now an assistant principal at Gallego Fine Arts Intermediate School within the Sunnyside School District.

I had the pleasure of playing for Coach Tomey from 1994-1998 at the University of Arizona. I met Coach Tomey during my senior year while attending Sunnyside High School. Although he was small in stature, he was larger than life to me. Being a local Tucsonan, Coach Tomey was a celebrity. He never made any promises to me other than he would give me an opportunity to walk-on if I chose to attend the U of A. As a five-foot nothing, Mexican-American kid from the south-side of Tucson, that’s all I wanted, an opportunity.

T.J. Rodriguez surrounded by former Arizona Wildcats at yesterday’s dedication of the naming of the practice fields after Dick Tomey (Rodriguez photo)

My first day of college life included me trying to figure out where to park, how to traverse the large campus to make it to my classes on time, and trying to walk-on to the Arizona Wildcats Football team as a place-kicker. Day one, that was my opportunity. Coach Tomey and Coach Rich Ellerson gave me what I wanted, a chance.

I made the most of that moment and demonstrated enough skill, grit, and potential to become a Wildcat. As many of my fellow teammates mentioned during the unveiling of the “Dick Tomey Practice Fields”, Coach Tomey treated his scholarship guys and his walk-ons all the same. Once you were one of his guys it did not matter, you were family. And this was true once we graduated, moved on from the University, and became men. Any time I would see Coach Tomey through the years he would ask about my children, my parents, and my career. He would tell me about his family and the grandkids and how excited he was for the upcoming little league season or a trip to Hawaii. To Coach Tomey, coaching was always about the people first.

Photos of T.J. Rodriguez and his brother Orlando, both of whom were part of the Arizona Wildcats’ program, along with their dad (Rodriguez photo)

If you had the opportunity to learn from Coach, you knew he was a teacher at heart. He loved watching his players learn and grow. He cared about the development of us as athletes, but more importantly as men. His lessons were more about life off the field, then on the field. As mentioned at the dedication today, there are many great coaches, but Coach Tomey was a great leader. He found ways to motivate an individual, a group, and a collective team. What made the 1998 team special my senior year, was that we played for each other, we played for our coaches, and we did not want to let anyone down. Although most of us dreaded the three-a-days of Camp Cochise, that is where our bond was established. . That is where the work began. That’s where all of the Tomey-isms came into play: Work together! Stay together! Finish it! This is it! So fitting that the practice fields were named after our coach. His legacy was built by the sweat equity that was put in at practice. Tomey coached us hard and loved us harder. He provided tough love and loved tough. I thank Coach Tomey and all of the coaching staff for providing me an opportunity to be part of something so special. I was blessed my senior year to be able to play U of A football with my younger brother, Orlando “OJ” Rodriquez. Talk about special! What’s amazing is that over my 5 years as a Wildcat I have gained hundreds of brothers. Coach Tomey, thank you and we miss you. I am so grateful for the memories you have provided me and my family. I hope as you look down on me that I am doing you proud as a leader and as a man. I will continue to spread your teachings, and I will “coach them hard, and love them harder.” BEAR DOWN and God Bless! 

– Ted “T.J.” Rodriquez Jr.

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