V.I. Raiders receiver Dustin Rodriguez low-fives teammates prior to his final regular-season game at Caledonia Park last month.

V.I. Raiders receiver Dustin Rodriguez low-fives teammates prior to his final regular-season game at Caledonia Park last month.

Receiver keeps Raiders’ offence on the move

Dustin Rodriguez leads B.C. Football Conference in catches and receiving yards in his final season.

It’s an achievement that V.I. Raiders receiver Dustin Rodriguez led the league in receiving yards this season.

It’s a greater achievement considering that so many of those yards came the same way, on ‘go’ routes down the sideline. Opponents knew the play was coming – they just had a hard time stopping it.

“I always tell Jake [Laberge, Raiders quarterback], if we ever catch them in man, then we’ve got to take a shot…” Rodriguez said. “And usually I’ve got a couple little moves that I like to save for when we do run the go and it’s been working.”

Laberge and Rodriguez connected for 11 receptions and 191 yards in the final game of the B.C. Football Conference regular season, a 37-17 win over the Valley Huskers on Saturday in Chilliwack. Those totals lifted Rodriguez to 941 yards and 51 catches on the season, both conference-best totals.

Laberge said the team wanted to make the regular-season finale a big game for their veteran pass catcher.

“For DRod, who works really hard, a fifth-year, it was good to get him that,” the QB said. “It would have been nice to get him to 1,000 [yards], but we got him as much as we could.”

Rodriguez earned the BCFC Offensive Player of the Week to go with the receiving title and he will almost certainly be an all-star and possibly an All-Canadian.

“In the long run, I really just want to win a national championship, I don’t care much about the individual awards,” he said. “It’s nice, but at the same time, there’s a bigger picture.”

Winning is always important, but there’s even more urgency when a player reaches his final year of junior.

“Everyone always says in their fifth year, time flies, and it really does,” Rodriguez said. “It seems like a week ago I was putting the pads on with [former star QB Jordan] Yantz and all those guys, but no.”

The Raiders have always been a hometown team for Rodriguez, who came from Parksville’s Ballenas Whalers program. The V.I. coaching staff was immediately impressed by the recruit and he was a starter from Day 1.

One ex-coach memorably lamented that the Raiders’ practice field was too small to work on certain routes with Rodriguez’s speed.

His athleticism has allowed him to adopt other roles with the Raiders over the years – he’s been a returner, a punter and even a quarterback for multiple series in games last season.

“I think we’ve got to scratch that for good. It didn’t work too well last time,” Rodriguez said.

This year, he’s stuck to the receiving corps, where he’s led a young group and also helped a rookie QB put together a strong season.

“It’s kind of been like a safety net for me, in a way,” Laberge said. “I know where he’s going to be and he’s really reliable.”

Rodriguez has made a lot of catches in the BCFC, where that’s difficult to do sometimes. Things will get harder now, at playoff time, but still, he likes his team’s potential and its momentum.

And the Raiders like their chances that when they call for their favourite throw down the sideline, their No. 1 receiver will go get that ball.

“Obviously final year, I’ve got to leave it all out on the line,” Rodriguez said.

GAME ON … The Raiders play the Westshore Rebels in the playoffs on Oct. 15 at 7 p.m. at Victoria’s Westhills Stadium.

sports@nanaimobulletin.com