OSU's Rodriguez named a semifinalist for Butkus Award

Oklahoma State linebacker Malcolm Rodriguez celebrates an interception by Jason Taylor II in a game against Kansas.

The Butkus Award, named after the Hall of Fame Chicago Bear Dick Butkus, carries this quote on the award’s webpage from the standout himself:

"When a player receives the Butkus Award he will know two things. First, he is recognized as the best of the best linebackers in America. Second, and in the long run most important, he will understand that this recognition brings a responsibility to serve others by giving back."

Let’s just say this: One of the semifinalists not making the final cut doesn’t need the award to represent all that.  That’s the thing about awards, they gather dust and it’s really how those around you remember you anyway that carry life's mileage. 

Nothing against the six finalists announced on Monday — Cincinnati’s Darrian Beavers, Georgia’s Nakobe Dean, LSU’s Damone Clark, Utah’s Devin Lloyd, Wisconsin’s Leon Chenal or Wyoming’s Chad Muma — but a guy who would be third in that group in tackles (tops among all defenders in the Big 12),  fourth among the group in tackles for loss and leading in fumble recoveries isn’t there.

His best bud wasn’t happy.

Tweets Oklahoma State lineman Brock Martin: “This has gotta be a joke right? The best linebacker in the country resides in Stillwater and his name is Malcolm Luciano Rodriguez.”

Mom even chimed in.

Tweets Shanna Rodriguez: “No award needed to validate what we SEE and KNOW every Saturday! The best is yet to come! Tunnel vision @malcolmIrod.”

OK, best friends and mamas are one thing. 

How about a previous winner of the award himself?

Teddy Lehman didn’t have a vote.  The Butkus isn’t decided like the Heisman, where former winners are among those who get a say. But in talking with him Tuesday, it seems likely Lehman would have had him in the finals.

The former Fort Gibson and Oklahoma standout “was shocked” that Rodriguez wasn’t a finalist.

“With him it’s not just a come out of nowhere campaign. He’s been excellent there several years,” Lehman said. “He’s leading the Big 12 in tackles ... and is at the center of a defense that is number two or three in the country depending on how you look at the numbers. 

“He’s been a big piece of what they do. He’s a great player whistle to whistle. You see the kind of knowledge he has and preparation he puts in week in, week out. I’m pretty shocked.”

In wrestling with why, he offered two points. 

“I’m not saying it’s a legitimate reason or anything but Oklahoma State is kind of new on the national scene for playing great defense,” Lehman said. “It helps when there’s a built-in history over several years. Not that it’s a legitimate excuse because again, as an player, he checks all the boxes.”

The other, he said, is his belief that the basis of the award has changed with the advent of the edge rusher, a basis he disagrees with..

“To me the spirit of the award is inside backer,” he said. “If you start counting edge rushers who have 6-7 sacks on the year, you’re talking about a position that is rushing the passer every single down. A guy like Rodriguez, he’s blitzing a handful of times but he’s not rushing every time. They’ve kind of blended those together for one award and maybe there should be one for each.”

Malcolm’s own thoughts? 

He tweeted: “It’s the sheer love of the game, the support and love from family, friends and fans that fuel my performance. Accolades are and always have been secondary. Cowboy up! Much love, MRod! #GoPokes”

Little doubt whether he’ll have plenty of gas for the biggest two games of his career coming up — games that could lead to something even bigger with a pair of wins and if the whims of another committee, the College Playoff folks, catch the outcomes with the right perspective — a potential one-loss team whose only setback might have been altered by a spot of the football.

And here’s to some "secondary" stuff that’s gone dusty — three times an All-Phoenix selection, a 2016 MVP, a two-time Male Athlete of the Year and Male Athlete of the Decade. 

Some of us know you better than they do, M-Rod.

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