MOUNT AIRY — Former North Surry High School football player Nic Rodriguez died Thursday morning when a storm-loosened tree toppled onto the mobile home where he lived in Mount Airy, authorities said.
Teammates and coaches gathered at the high school and were talking with each other Thursday, sharing memories of a young linebacker who wore the No. 5 jersey and whose personality drew people to him.
“Nic was one of the finest young men I have ever coached,” said Danny Lyons, who was coach at North Surry in 2017, the year Rodriguez was a senior and one of the team captains. “His smile and attitude were infectious to those around him.”
Contributions to pay Rodriguez’s funeral expenses were pouring in Thursday night on the GoFundMe page set up for that purpose.
Nicolas Manuel Rodriguez, 20, lived in a mobile home at 119 Boeing Lane in Mount Airy. Shortly after 5 a.m., authorities got the call about a fallen tree and a man trapped inside his home.
John Shelton, the director of emergency services in Surry County, said that on arrival, “there was extremely large tree that had fallen through the end of the mobile home.”
It was clear that Rodriguez was already dead when emergency crews arrived, Shelton said. It took a long time to remove the tree, which was so big that a wrecker had to be brought it to remove it from the mobile home, Shelton said. One other person who had been in the home escaped injury.
“We have had several bouts of heavy rain and a lot of wind,” Shelton said. “The root system probably started weakening the day before. It was raining when we were en route to the call and there was some wind. The tree was very heavy in the top.”
Rodriguez played at Catawba College after North Surry, but didn’t stay. At the time of his death, he worked a construction job in Mount Airy and was going to community college with the hope of becoming a physical education teacher, said Pat Taylor, who was an assistant coach under Lyons, and now is head coach of the North Surry Greyhounds.
Rodriguez’s teammate and friend Avery Simmons said he couldn’t believe it when he saw in a social media post Thursday morning that Rodriguez had died. Most days, Simmons said, he and Rodriguez ran into each other or talked. They and other friends might play a pickup game of basketball or hang out at Rodriguez’s house.
It didn’t seem possible he was gone.
“He was the most selfless and caring guy you could meet,” Simmons said. They became close friends as they played together over the years for the Greyhounds. “He would be the guy who was there to talk to you if you needed something. He had a really close friend group. He had that energy to him.”
Simmons, other members of the team and a current and former football coach were among those who gathered at the school Thursday after they found out about Rodriguez.
“We got together and were talking about the old times when we played football together,” Simmons said. “All those times after school, you would spend two or three hours with each other, and you got to know those guys more than anyone.”
Lyons, the former Greyhounds coach, said he and Taylor, the current coach, were among those gathering at the school.
Lyons said people in the community are sending out “a lot of love to Nic and his family.”
“Me and coach Taylor were talking about how if you had 40 Nic Rodriguezes on your team, being a coach would not be a difficult job,” Lyons said. This fall, assuming play resumes, Taylor plans to have a different player wear the No. 5 jersey in honor of Rodriguez.
When Rodriguez came onto the team as a freshman, Lyons said, he was no star. But he had the right attitude.
“He came in and wanted to be good at what he did,” Lyons said.
The spring before that 2017 season, Lyons said, the team was coming off a five-win season and was looking pretty good in practice.
“He said, ‘Coach, I think we have a chance to be pretty good,’ “ Lyons recalled. The Greyhounds won a lot of games by wide margins, but a few were close.
“The ones we had to gut out, it was people like him who came up with the right play at the right time,” Lyons said.
After downing West Stokes 17-7 in the last regular season game, Lyons said, Rodriguez said “I told you so” to his coach as tears ran down his face.
Taylor talked about how Rodriguez played through sore ankles in his senior year that would have made a lot of other players quit.
“He came to school every day with the attitude that I am going to be better, and I am going to make others better by being a teammates that helps others, holds them accountable and leads by example,” Taylor said.
No coach expects to outlive his players, Taylor said.
“You are going to see them grow up, reach those goals and have a family,” he said.