All through high school, Sam Rodriguez dreamed of playing college basketball. As a senior point guard he averaged 11.3 points per game for the Hotchkiss Bulldogs and was named All-State honorable mention.
But last fall, in the midst of a successful cross country season, Rodriguez changed course. Last month he signed to compete in Division III track for the Colorado College Tigers.
Rodriguez said he was considering running in college. A few running camps convinced him he was on the right track.
"I just realized, you know, I'm not physically the best suited to play basketball," said the 6-foot senior after placing fifth in the 800-meter run last month at the state track meet. "I'm not the tallest, I'm not the strongest... Honestly, I just love to compete."
As a freshman distance runner at Delta High School, he had the fastest team time in the 1600m. "My freshman year I was not super into running," he said. "It was something to do before I could return to basketball. It was something I could do to keep myself busy."
His sophomore year he transferred to Hotchkiss High School after dad Paul accepted the job of school principal, and joined the track and cross country teams. "He was a good addition to the team," said long-time running coach Kelly Cowan. "He's a hard worker and he fit right in."
He and brother Gabe, who graduated in 2017, both qualified for state cross country in 2016. His senior year Sam placed fifth in the region and 17th in the state.
After qualifying for state in the 1600m his junior year, this track season he found more success as a mid-distance runner and quickly became a key factor in the 1600- and 3200-meter relays. Both relay teams finished the season better than expected, placing second in the 2A Western Slope League, and third and sixth, respectively, at the state level.
"I came to Hotchkiss and coach Cowan really made me push myself," said Rodriguez. "I found out I could be competitive running, and that is what drove me."