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Football saved his life after a deadly day in Afghanistan

STAFFORD COUNTY, Va. -- Stafford native Daniel Rodriguez is leading athletes in his first ever youth training camp.

"It's how we affect other people and the legacy we leave," Daniel said. "These kids came out here and I want them to look at me and say I gave them their all."

His boys are listening.

"Just because you drop the pass or fall down he says 'Good job. You tried your best,'" 11-year-old Torin Craig said.

Rigorous drills sharpen the skills. Daniel should know.

The fast and fit 29-year-old athlete once played special teams for the college powerhouse Clemson Tigers. He appeared in 37 consecutive games and later signed by the St. Louis Rams.

Daniel Rodriguez #83 of the Clemson Tigers carries the American Flag down the hill during the game against the Georgia State Panthers at Memorial Stadium on November 22, 2014 in Clemson, South Carolina. (Photo by Tyler Smith/Getty Images)

But Daniel's toughest test didn't unfold on a football field.

Shortly after graduating from Brooke Point High School, Daniel joined the United States Army.

"I was quickly shipped off to Iraq. Came back and I quickly was shipped off to Afghanistan," Daniel said.

Daniel's life nearly ended on a battlefield when his unit was overrun by Taliban fighters.

"It was intense. It was October 3rd, 2009. It was known as the bloodiest battle in Afghanistan," he said.

The attack lasted more than 12 hours.

"I’m one of 38 surviving Americans who were overrun by 400 Taliban (in a firefight). Honestly, I didn't think I was going to live. My best friend was killed in front of me. Heard over the radio that five other casualties were taken. Bullet fragments in my shoulder. Took shrapnel in both legs and shrapnel in my neck," he recalled."

Even with an opportunity to go home, Daniel chose to stay with his soldiers and finish his 12-month tour.

But after leaving the military PTSD, alcohol and prescription drug abuse pushed him to the brink. Daniel contemplated ending his life.

"It was a tough time for a long time [thinking about] why I survived that and why I didn’t die," Daniel said.

Football, however, was his savior. His college and pro football experiences fueled his desire to live.

"I still have that fuse that burns inside me, but now I want that fuse to burn for something good," he said.

Now a motivational speaker and author, Daniel is sharing his story with young players.

"These kids came out here and I want them to look at me and say I gave them their all," Daniel said.

Daniel’s message resonated with 14-year-old Shane O'Neill whose father is a United States Marine.

"What he does really inspires me, 'Don’t give up on yourself. Keep on doing what you love.' No one can bring you down. If someone says you can’t do this. Hey. You can do it."

As he puts his rough journey behind him, Daniel Rodriguez is not wasting this second chance at helping others succeed on the field of life.

"If I can make a difference and they can hear my story and influence them in another path they never thought they could then everything I went through is all OK with me," Daniel said.

Daniel lives in Los Angeles, but frequently travels the country to deliver motivational speeches. He is also finishing his second book. This football camp was his first, but he plans to hold several more down the road.

Greg McQuade features local heroes in a weekly “Heroes Among Us” segment. Watch Greg’s reports Thursdays on CBS News at 6 or here on WTVR.com. If you would like to nominate someone to be featured on “Heroes Among Us,” click here to email heroes@wtvr.com.