By now, there isn’t a Castleton wrestling fan who doesn’t know the name James Rodriguez. His impressive performance on the mat leaves people speechless, but there’s more to this young man.
Growing up in Perth Amboy, New Jersey, wrestling was more of a hobby for James than a commitment.
“In middle school, I watched a lot of WWE, which intrigued me to want to participate in wrestling,” Rodriguez said.
Once he got started, there was no looking back. He said he found wrestling taught him how to rely on himself and to always work hard.
As he got older and the intensity rose, he developed a passion for wrestling. And it was in high school that Rodriguez began taking wrestling very seriously.
“I started off doing club wrestling in high school, which led to me being on the varsity wrestling coach’s radar,” he said.
He said the bar of expectations was soon set high for him because the coach felt he had a bright future.
And he did.
Rodriguez managed to go to states all four years of high school, won districts twice, was a three-time county champion, a one-time regional champion, and a two-time regional finalist.
Most would say he had a stellar high school career, but he thinks otherwise.
“I had a decent career in high school managing to compile a handful of achievements,” he said humbly.
He said his biggest regret was not getting the opportunity to become a state champion at the state tournament.
“Not being able to compete at the highest point in the state tournament pushed me to chase my goals and work even harder,” he said.
Through all the glory and success he enjoyed throughout his high school career, he said it was the low points that molded him into who he is today.
Placing 8th in the national tournament for Castleton University was a huge achievement for James back in January of 2022. It gave him confidence and a sense of belonging coming out of that experience.
“The tournament showed me that nothing is impossible when you put your mind to it. This was a huge accomplishment that showed me that I can be national champion and that my goals aren’t too far out of reach,” he said.
At Castleton, Rodriguez is one of the most beloved individuals on campus. Wrestling Head Coach Scott Legacy was eager to talk about James’s his character.
“James is someone that has a smile and a kind word for everybody, doesn’t matter who it is,” Legacy said. He said Rodriguez’s positive outlook and coachable personality gives him a sense of excitement because he knows he is always going to have an optimistic view of anything he’s in the midst of. The talent, knowledge, and hard work is what sets him apart from others, Legacy said.
“He’s a talented athlete that works extremely hard and he has gained confidence through every match he’s competed in at Castleton,” said Legacy. As of Jan. 28 Rodriguez had compiled a 33-2 record on the season.
Former wrestler Isaiah Hughes also talked about Rodriguez’s character.
“James, to me, is the definition of a humble beast. He doesn’t show off too much and gets the job done, taking home the W with good sportsmanship,” Hughes said.
Teammates and friends say his ability to be a very humane person while being a high-level athlete is what’s most impressive.
“He treats everyone with respect while staying humble. And more of us should be like James Rodriguez, myself included,” Legacy said.
Rodriguez said a desire to be an inspiration and role model for his siblings has driven him to continue to climb the ranks in Division 3 wrestling.
“I want them to look up to me and say I’m their role model,” he said.
Some in his family have wrestling or combat fighting in their background, but never took it to the level of where James is today. All the success he’s had has made his parents very proud of him.
“And I wanna keep making them proud because I wanna be able to look back and tell my child and grandchildren what I accomplished to possibly become a role model to them as well,” he said.
As he steps into the second half of his career at Castleton, he contemplates what his life will look like after college. Will he continue to compete competitively or will he hang it up?
“Competing-wise, I don’t think so, because of all the battering and bruising I’ve gone through over the years. But I do plan on giving back to the community and staying involved in the sport of wrestling. Whether that’s here or back home, I plan to stay attached to this sport the best I can,” he said, adding that he will certainly be back here for Coach Legacy attending practices, summer camps, or meets when needed.