By Chad Wingert
CARO — Akron-Fairgrove’s Austin Rodriguez is putting quite the finishing touch on his final chapter with the Vikings.
At the Division 4 Regional Track meet in Brown City, Rodriguez secured three spots in the state finals after winning Regional titles in the 100 hurdles, the 300 hurdles and the long jump.
Then, just three days later, Rodriguez proved to be one of the best again.
But this time, he proved to be one of the best athletes in the entire Thumb area, not just Division 4.
Rodriguez was named the 2012 Thumb Meet of Champions Male Athlete of the Meet on Tuesday after taking first place in the long jump (21’04.00), first place in the 300 hurdles (40.28) and third place in the 110 hurdles (15.94).
“I was not expecting this award at all. I just wanted to come out here and do my best,” Rodriguez said. “There were a lot of great athletes out here, ones just as good as me.”
Rodriguez, along with teammate Danny Opperman, were the only two Vikings to qualify for this year’s running of the Meet of Champs. Opperman qualified in the high jump and finished eighth after clearing a height of 5’8.
But, the fact that only two athletes from Akron-Fairgrove’s program attended this year’s meet made this award even more special to Rodriguez.
“Representing Akron-Fairgrove is a great feeling. A lot of kids from our school don’t get the opportunity to take home this kind of award or to go to the state finals. It’s also nice to, in a way, serve as a role model,” Rodriguez said. “I want to show kids from schools like Akron-Fairgrove that you don’t have to go to big schools to win awards like this, or go to the state finals. If you want it enough, you can do it.”
Just minutes after Rodriguez was honored in front of the Meet of Champs crowd, Vikings head coach Ricky Behm had a particular look on his face.
That look was one of pride; Pride in his program and pride in Rodriguez.
“I’m extremely proud of him,” said Akron-Fairgrove head coach Ricky Behm. “He has worked so hard this season. He really deserves this award.”
As a senior, from a small Class D, North Central Thumb League school, Rodriguez could not have been more ecstatic about winning the Meet of Champs top honor. However, even after placing numerous accolades under his belt this season, Rodriguez made it clear that there was still work to be done before closing the chapter on his career at Akron-Fairgrove.
“I’ve been looking forward to the state finals all year long. I just want to do better than I did last year,” he said. “All of my training, practice and hard work comes down to this weekend. I want to win.”
After most of the fans had left for their vehicles and the athletes had cleared out of Caro High School’s Stamats Field, Rodriguez and his family took a moment to soak in the moment.
Tuesday, Rodriguez was the best athlete in the Thumb.
But on Saturday, he will be looking to be named one of the best athletes in the state.
In a way, this meet almost served as training for this weekend at states. Right now, this feels like it was just another track meet,” Rodriguez said. “I know that the real competition, the tougher competition, will be this weekend at states. I’m just hoping I can run better and faster.”
Chad Wingert is the Sports Editor of the Advertiser and can be reached at Sports@tcadvertiser.com
By Chad Wingert