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Interview with Malcolm Rodriguez’s wrestling coach: ‘There’s just very little fear in him’

We chatted with Oklahoma State wrestling coach John Smith to learn every we can about Detroit Lions rookie sensation Malcolm Rodriguez.

Syndication: Detroit Free Press Kirthmon F. Dozier / USA TODAY NETWORK

Malcolm Rodriguez has been taking the city of Detroit by storm almost since the day he was drafted. At first, Rodriguez seemed destined for a special teams role in his rookie season—a Day 3 addition that did not move the needle for most. There were some Detroit Lions fans on Twitter who felt that Rodriguez was a big steal. As time has gone on, it’s looking more and more like he could be one of the biggest steals of the draft.

It’s not every day that a sixth-round pick gets a lot of playing time in his rookie year. It’s definitely not every day that a sixth-round pick starts in Week 1. On top of that, it’s not every day that a sixth-round pick who gets a chance to start as rookie turns out to be good.

Rodriguez is special. Some believe that his wrestling background has a lot to do with it.

Rodriguez is a former three-time state champion in Oklahoma. He showed some of that ability in Week 1 when he hip tossed All-Pro center Jason Kelce of the Philadelphia Eagles.

As a former wrestler myself, I had “a sailor always spots another sailor” moment when I saw this. Suddenly I was on the phone with members of the old high school wrestling team talking about Rodriguez. I became enamored with Rodrigo’s wrestling ability and how it translates to the field.

I had questions, so I took those questions to an expert. Not just any expert. I’m talking about an expert who has won two Olympic gold medals and a six-time world champion type of expert.

One of the greatest freestyle wrestlers of all time, the current wrestling head coach of the Oklahoma State Cowboys and Malcolm Rodriguez’ wrestling coach for a semester at OSU, Mr. John Smith. Here’s what he had to say about Rodriguez:

When were you first aware of Rodriguez?

“I think probably when he was a freshman or sophomore. You know, I went and watched the state championship that year. I go every year. He wrestled one of the kids that starts on my team right now. All American Wyatt Sheets. I remember the match. It was competitive match, but Sheets was too good for him on top. Of course he was always on our radar, but we always knew he was playing football.

Have you been aware of Malcolm’s rise to stardom in Detroit? Everybody is talking about this kid right now.

“Yeah, yeah. I follow him. I’ve followed him his whole career here at OSU. We had a nice relationship when he was here. I follow all the wrestlers. I think a lot of that is he’s just got a great character you know? He’s easy to get along with and he’s easy to talk to. He’ll take the time for people you know? He’s raised well. His parents raised him well.”

Did you happen to see the video of him hip tossing Jason Kelce?

“Yeah, I did.”

[Let me take a slight pause here to just tell you that the grin on Coach Smith’s face said a million words here. You could really tell he loved it.]

What did you think about that as a wrestling coach?

“Well, I thought he should have held his ground just a little bit more. He kind of took two steps back. That’s if I had to coach him on it. Yeah, it was, I saw some of that here while he was at OSU. It was a nice hip toss and it would have been a pin in folk-style wrestling.”

How much do you think wrestling affects the way he plays football? On some of his tackles it almost looks like he’s shooting double legs.

“I think you develop those skills. You’ve been doing it for so long. It’s like anything. Then you do it in live combat and you have to execute when someone’s actually broken down and they’re trying to keep you from getting to their legs. You develop those skills through drilling and through working. Probably for him, he’s probably hit a million double legs through time. It becomes instinct to you. Those skills, they never really leave you.

“His ability to change levels and explode. You saw it in the wrestling room. Especially against highly competitive people. It’s something that definitely makes a difference for you in the game.”

Can you speak to his competitiveness? He seems like a guy that wants to get out there and fight you.

“All I can speak to is the time he was in our room and the time I got to spend with him as well as one of his teammates and good friends Brock Martin. You just saw the competitive nature of him. It wasn’t by accident. I just saw that competitive nature and I was like, ‘This guy is gonna to be real successful in football.’ You could just see the will and the drive that he had. It reminds me that there’s just very little fear in him and you see that all the time.

“You think about a kid who was a senior in high school and he won his second state championship at 195 pounds, and I don’t know if he even weighed that. His first state championship was at 152 in his sophomore year. You realize the kind of work he had to put in to put on the weight he’s at now and keep his speed and power. That’s just the kind of guy he is.”