Chattanooga Football Club signs former Dalton star

Staff Photo by Matt Hamilton / Dalton (7) Damian Rodriguez controls the ball as Baylor (9) Aiden Yelton defends at Harmon Field in Dalton, Ga. on Tuesday, April 6, 2021.
Staff Photo by Matt Hamilton / Dalton (7) Damian Rodriguez controls the ball as Baylor (9) Aiden Yelton defends at Harmon Field in Dalton, Ga. on Tuesday, April 6, 2021.

Monday was a special day for Damian Rodriguez. In fact, it was a special day for the Rodriguez family.

And it was also a day that the Chattanooga Football Club - yet again - backed up its community focus.

The club announced that it had signed the younger Rodriguez, who recently graduated from Dalton as a two-time state champion with the Catamounts' soccer team, to a professional contract to remain with the club in 2022 for his second season. More importantly though, it announced that his deal will include an educational stipend that will cover Rodriguez's college tuition in addition to playing.

"For me, that's very important because I'm going to be the first one in my family to graduate college," said Rodriguez, who added his father, also named Damian, was just as excited as he was. "I'm grateful for this opportunity. I'm thankful because I'll be playing the sport I love while still getting an education. That's important for me and my family.

"We've always talked about graduating college."

He's thought about pursuing something in the business field, but hasn't made that decision.

Rodriguez finished with a goal and an assist in 14 fall matches with CFC, and having had that time to be evaluated by the staff was key in him having the opportunity to come back again next season.

"Everybody's choices and everybody's journey is different. His (Rodriguez) journey is going to include college, it just isn't going to include college soccer," CFC managing director Jeremy Alumbaugh said. "He's proven himself, and had he done this without getting games in the fall, I think it would have been a little bit more challenging, more of a risk, but he's proven himself now. He's playing against pros and he's had success against pros, and he's proven he has what it takes to compete.

"Now he'll get that opportunity to pursue two dreams."

photo Staff photo by C.B. Schmelter / Dalton's Damian Rodriguez (7) watches his pass against Carrollton on Harmon Field at Bill Chappell Stadium on Tuesday, March 23, 2021 in Dalton, Ga.

Alumbaugh noted that while the deal is pretty uncommon for clubs at the National Independent Soccer Association level, it's pretty normal at other levels of play.

And now in addition to the academic load that's about to begin, Rodriguez and CFC can focus efforts on what is going to be a normal professional season, one starting early in 2022 and ending around October or November.

"I'm thankful to Chattanooga for giving me this opportunity to live out my dreams," Rodriguez said. "The club has been supporting me since the minute I got there and now even more that I'm signing officially."

Contact Gene Henley at ghenley@timesfreepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @genehenley3.