Chris Rodriguez knows his mother would be proud of him starting … – Washington Commanders

Senior Writer
Most people probably didn’t notice anything different about Chris Rodriguez’s helmet during the Senior Bowl, but for the former Kentucky Wildcat, the fact that he was donning a purple facemask carried heavy significance. 
At the time, Rodriguez was about a month removed from his mother, Stephanie Thornton, passing away from lupus in January. So, as a way of honoring her, Rodriguez was loaned a purple facemask — the color for lupus awareness — by LSU to wear during the college all-star week.  
Rodriguez is always looking for ways to highlight the impact Thornton had on him. He has a large support system that includes his father, aunts, uncles, cousins and his fiancé, but he credits his mother as “my biggest motivation in life” and someone who pushed him to pursue his dream of playing in the NFL. 
That dream came to life when the Washington Commanders drafted him in the sixth round, and while he can’t savor the moment with her by his side, he wants to make sure he is living and playing for her. 
“It’s hard I’m not sharing this moment with her, but I know she’s looking down,” Rodriguez told reporters after he was drafted. “She’s proud of me, and I continue to make her proud.”
Thornton had been dealing with lupus for most of her life. She was diagnosed in her late teenage years when Rodriguez’s sister was born, so he had witnessed her battle with the autoimmune disease for most of his life.
That did not prevent Thornton from supporting Rodriguez throughout his playing career. She cheered him on as he became one of the top prospects in Georgia for amassing 4,730 yards at Ola High School.
That support carried over to Rodriguez’s career at Kentucky, where he wrapped up his college career as one of the best running backs in program history. His 32 rushing touchdowns are second on the Wildcats’ all-time list, and he recorded a school-record of 20 100-yard games.
The two were so close that Rodriguez considered his aspirations of making it to the NFL as their dream.
“All the goals and aspirations were through her,” Rodriguez told Kentucky Sports. “I wanted to do everything through football to give her a better life. My mom had lupus, and I wanted her to not struggle or have to go through anything.”
No matter what Rodriguez was going through in life, Thornton would do whatever was necessary for her to be there for him. One memory that sticks out the most was when Thornton made the trip up to Kentucky from Georgia when Rodriguez was going through a difficult time.
“That’s one of the times that I cried to my mom,” Rodriguez said. “It was just her holding me and me crying to her. And it was peaceful when she was holding me.”
The day before Rodriguez and the rest of the Commanders’ rookies reported to the training facility for minicamp was a tough one for him. He wanted his mom there with him “more than anything else,” and the realization that she would not be there left him “shocked.”
The next morning, Rodriguez got a text message from his sister that put things into perspective for him.
“It just kind of reminded me that mom’s with me no matter what,” Rodriguez said. “And just continue to do what I’m doing. I am making her proud.”
Check out the top photos from Kentucky running back Chris Rodriguez’s college career. (Photos via The Associated Press)
Kentucky quarterback Will Levis, right, hands the ball off to Kentucky running back Chris Rodriguez Jr. during the first half of an NCAA college football game against Mississippi State in Lexington, Ky., Saturday, Oct. 15, 2022. (AP Photo/Michael Clubb)
Kentucky running back Chris Rodriguez Jr. (24) runs the ball up the field during a NCAA college football game against Missouri in Lexington, Ky., Saturday, Sept. 11, 2021. (AP Photo/Michael Clubb)
Kentucky running back Chris Rodriguez Jr. (24) breaks free from a tackle by Mississippi State safety Jackie Matthews (8) during an NCAA college football game in Lexington, Ky., Saturday, Oct. 15, 2022. (AP Photo/Michael Clubb)
Kentucky running back Chris Rodriguez Jr. (24) rushes for yardage in front of Iowa linebacker Jestin Jacobs (5) during the first half of the Citrus Bowl NCAA college football game, Saturday, Jan. 1, 2022, in Orlando, Fla. (AP Photo/Phelan M. Ebenhack)
Kentucky running back Chris Rodriguez Jr. (24) gets tackled during an NCAA college football game against Florida in Lexington, Ky., Saturday, Oct. 2, 2021. (AP Photo/Michael Clubb)
Kentucky running back Chris Rodriguez Jr. (24) is tackled into the end zone for a touchdown by Mississippi State defensive end Jordan Davis during the second half of an NCAA college football game in Lexington, Ky., Saturday, Oct. 15, 2022. (AP Photo/Michael Clubb)
Kentucky running back Chris Rodriguez Jr. (24) runs towards the end zone during an NCAA college football game against Louisiana-Monroe in Lexington, Ky., Saturday, Sept. 4, 2021. (AP Photo/Michael Clubb)
American running back Chris Rodriguez Jr. of Kentucky (24) during the second half of the Senior Bowl NCAA college football game Saturday, Feb. 4, 2023, in Mobile, Ala.. (AP Photo/Butch Dill)
Kentucky running back Chris Rodriguez Jr. (24) runs the ball up the field during a NCAA college football game against Chattanooga in Lexington, Ky., Saturday, Sept. 18, 2021. (AP Photo/Michael Clubb)
Kentucky running back Chris Rodriguez Jr. celebrates after scoring a touchdown against Mississippi State during the second half of an NCAA college football game in Lexington, Ky., Saturday, Oct. 15, 2022. (AP Photo/Michael Clubb)
Kentucky running back Chris Rodriguez Jr., right, is brought down by Vanderbilt safety Maxwell Worship (21) in the first half of an NCAA college football game Saturday, Nov. 13, 2021, in Nashville, Tenn. (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey)
Kentucky running back Chris Rodriguez Jr., left, starts to celebrate after scoring a touchdown against Mississippi State during the second half of an NCAA college football game in Lexington, Ky., Saturday, Oct. 15, 2022. (AP Photo/Michael Clubb)
Kentucky running back Chris Rodriguez Jr. (24) runs through the defense during an NCAA college football game against Tennessee in Lexington, Ky., Saturday, Nov. 6, 2021. (AP Photo/Michael Clubb)
“He’s a big, physical guy. What he can do is he’s a downhill runner. He’s a one-cut guy, put his foot in the ground and get into that crease and blow some things up inside. He has enough speed and quickness to bust it outside and turn the corner, but we also like his ability to step up and become a pass protector.”
— Ron Rivera
Kentucky running back Chris Rodriguez Jr. (24) runs through the defense during an NCAA college football game against Tennessee in Lexington, Ky., Saturday, Nov. 6, 2021. (AP Photo/Michael Clubb)
Kentucky running back Chris Rodriguez Jr. (24) salutes to the Missouri bench during the second half of an NCAA college football game in Lexington, Ky., Saturday, Sept. 11, 2021. (AP Photo/Michael Clubb)
Kentucky running back Chris Rodriguez Jr. (24) is tackled by Georgia linebacker Monty Rice (32), linebacker Jermaine Johnson (11) and linebacker Nakobe Dean (17) during the second half of an NCAA college football game, Oct. 31, 2020, in Lexington, Ky. (AP Photo/Bryan Woolston)
Kentucky running back Chris Rodriguez Jr., left, rushes for a 6-yard touchdown in front of Iowa linebacker Jack Campbell (31) during the second half of the Citrus Bowl NCAA college football game, Saturday, Jan. 1, 2022, in Orlando, Fla. (AP Photo/Phelan M. Ebenhack)
Kentucky running back Chris Rodriguez Jr. (24) runs upfield against Mississippi State during the first half of an NCAA college football game in Starkville, Miss., Saturday, Oct. 29, 2021. (AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis)
Kentucky quarterback Will Levis (7) celebrates a Chris Rodriguez Jr. (24) touchdown during the first half of an NCAA college football game against Louisiana-Monroe in Lexington, Ky., Saturday, Sept. 4, 2021. (AP Photo/Michael Clubb)
FILE – Kentucky running back Chris Rodriguez Jr. (24) runs the ball against New Mexico State during an NCAA college football game in Lexington, Ky., Saturday, Nov. 20, 2021. Kentucky coach Mark Stoops said Monday, Sept. 12, 2022, that leading rusher Chris Rodriguez Jr. will return from an unspecified absence on Oct. 1 for the No. 9 Wildcats’ Southeastern Conference matchup at No. 20 Mississippi. (AP Photo/Michael Clubb, File)
Mississippi State safety Collin Duncan (19) and safety Jackie Matthews (8) bring down Kentucky running back Chris Rodriguez Jr. during an NCAA college football game in Lexington, Ky., Saturday, Oct. 15, 2022. (AP Photo/Michael Clubb)
Kentucky running back Chris Rodriguez Jr. (24) runs the ball into the end zone for a touchdown during the second half of an NCAA college football game against Florida in Lexington, Ky., Saturday, Oct. 2, 2021. (AP Photo/Michael Clubb)
Kentucky running back Chris Rodriguez Jr. (24) fights through a tackle attempt during the second half of the team’s NCAA college football game against Mississippi State in Lexington, Ky., Saturday, Oct. 15, 2022. (AP Photo/Michael Clubb)
Special Assistant to the Head Coach Eddie Gran congratulates Kentucky running back Chris Rodriguez Jr. (24) after a touchdown is confirmed against Mississippi State during an NCAA college football game in Lexington, Ky., Saturday, Oct. 15, 2022. (AP Photo/Michael Clubb)
Kentucky Wildcats running back Chris Rodriguez Jr. (24) scores a touchdown during the first half of the team’s NCAA college football game against New Mexico State in Lexington, Ky., Saturday, Nov. 20, 2021. (AP Photo/Michael Clubb)
Kentucky running back Chris Rodriguez Jr. (24) fumbles the ball near the end zone during the first half of the team’s NCAA college football game against Missouri in Lexington, Ky., Saturday, Sept. 11, 2021. (AP Photo/Michael Clubb)
Kentucky running back Chris Rodriguez Jr. (24) argues with Chattanooga defensive lineman Christian Smith (98) and defensive back CaMiron Smith (5) during their NCAA college football game in Lexington, Ky., Saturday, Sept. 18, 2021. (AP Photo/Michael Clubb)
Kentucky running back Chris Rodriguez Jr. (24) scores a touchdown against Vanderbilt in the first half of an NCAA college football game Saturday, Nov. 13, 2021, in Nashville, Tenn. (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey)
Kentucky running back Chris Rodriguez Jr. carries the ball as South Carolina’s Shilo Sanders defends during the first half of an NCAA college football game Saturday, Dec. 5, 2020, in Lexington, Ky. (AP Photo/Bryan Woolston)
Kentucky running back Chris Rodriguez Jr. (24) celebrates scoring a touchdown during an NCAA college football game against Missouri in Lexington, Ky., Saturday, Sept. 11, 2021. (AP Photo/Michael Clubb)
Kentucky running back Chris Rodriguez Jr. (24) is tackled by Georgia linebacker Monty Rice (32) and linebacker Nakobe Dean (17) during the second half of an NCAA college football game, Oct. 31, 2020, in Lexington, Ky. (AP Photo/Bryan Woolston)
Kentucky running back Chris Rodriguez Jr. (24) runs the ball into the end zone for a touchdown during the second half of an NCAA college football game against Florida in Lexington, Ky., Saturday, Oct. 2, 2021. (AP Photo/Michael Clubb)
Kentucky running back Chris Rodriguez Jr. celebrates scoring a touchdown against Mississippi State during the second half of an NCAA college football game in Lexington, Ky., Saturday, Oct. 15, 2022. (AP Photo/Michael Clubb)
American running back Chris Rodriguez Jr. of Kentucky (24) runs through drills during practice for the Senior Bowl NCAA college football game Thursday, Feb. 2, 2023, in Mobile, Ala.. (AP Photo/Butch Dill)
Kentucky running back Chris Rodriguez Jr. (24) runs for a touchdown during the second half of the team’s NCAA college football game against South Carolina, Saturday, Dec. 5, 2020, in Lexington, Ky. (AP Photo/Bryan Woolston)
Kentucky running back Chris Rodriguez Jr. (24) is tackled by several Georgia defenders during the first half of an NCAA college football game, Oct. 31, 2020, in Lexington, Ky. (AP Photo/Bryan Woolston)
Kentucky running back Chris Rodriguez Jr. (24) gets tackled during the second half of an NCAA college football game against Louisiana-Monroe in Lexington, Ky., Saturday, Sept. 4, 2021. (AP Photo/Michael Clubb)
Kentucky running back Chris Rodriguez Jr. (24) gets tackled during an NCAA college football game against Louisiana-Monroe in Lexington, Ky., Saturday, Sept. 4, 2021. (AP Photo/Michael Clubb)
Not long after Rodriguez got the call from the Commanders, Rodriguez posted a photo of him and Thornton on Instagram with the caption: “Today will be full of smiles and happy tears. Knowing I’m making you happy and fulfilling OUR dream me making it to the NFL. I love you, Momma. And I miss you so much. I know you’ll be next to me when the time comes.”
Rodriguez is certain that his mother is still watching over him and cheering him on as he begins the next chapter of his career.
“I know she’s looking down and she’s proud. If she were here, she’d still be proud.”
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