Hunter Rodriguez has been to the Holy Land.

For those who regularly read this section of the paper, you might be thinking, “No kidding?”

Everyone knows he was the starting quarterback for Desert Vista when the Thunder surprised everyone but themselves by upsetting Hamilton for the Division I state title.

To many that is like a trip to the Holy Land — that’s all there is to life. Playing a perfect game on one of the biggest stages, an opportunity others only could dream of, is about as good as it gets.

But this is about so much more than sports for Rodriguez.

Don’t get it wrong, Rodriguez is as competitive as they come, and he is a great leader who by all accounts has the respect of every teammate, coach and teacher he has ever had.

But as much as these sports pages might indicate otherwise, his life isn’t defined by what he does on the football field or baseball diamond.

It might be difficult to believe for someone who was on TV as a youngster when he played in the Little League World Series, played three years of varsity of baseball, and two years as the starting quarterback.

He has been in the limelight for years, but you’d never know it.

And because of all of the time commitment dedicated to sports over the years, the Rodriguez family didn’t go on many family vacations unless it was to a sports camp or a recruiting trip out of state.

Plenty of quarterbacks have walked off the field after winning big and tell everyone they were headed to Disneyland.

This one had a different, extremely mature, trip planned.

“Hunter came to me and said he wanted to go to the Holy Land to be baptized,” his father, Daville, said. “I told him I would do what I could.”

It worked out perfectly as they, along with Hunter’s younger brother, Chase, got on a standby flight and made their way to Tel-Aviv, Israel, for the start of a 12-day trip.

They stayed on the coast of the Mediterranean Sea for two days and within walking distance was a place called old Jaffa, which was where the story of Jonah and the Whale took place.

There were stops to Mount Carmel, Nazareth (Jesus’s birth place), the Sea of Galilee where they took a huge wooden boat out on the sea and listened to music and watched the sunset.

It was all a setup for the reason for the trip as they eventually made their way to the Jordan River.

“It was a beautiful morning and the Jordan River was so cold it took your breath away,” Hunter Rodriguez said. “My dad, my brother, and myself were also very hungry because we chose to fast for 24 hours before the baptism. Once we were baptized, we came up out of the water, quickly dried off, and found a quiet place and had something to eat. It was so awesome to finally be baptized and to do it half way around the world in the very same river that Jesus was baptized in.”

If that weren’t enough they spent Christmas Eve in Bethlehem.

“I get chills just thinking about it,” Rodriguez said after the Thunder’s first-round win in the Division I playoffs. “It was an incredible trip that can’t be put into words, really.”

Rodriguez is a Christian of great faith, clearly, but he wasn’t prepared for the emotional toll of walking the same land that Jesus did.

“Oh, man, that was the greatest experience of my life,” he said. “It was the biggest blessing I have ever had. It didn’t change me, but affected me in a way that can’t be understood unless you’ve done it yourself.”

Rodriguez, who will be attending Utah on a baseball scholarship, has developed quite the following and part of that is the way he carries himself. There have been many stories where the star quarterback/pitcher hasn’t been the most humble of teammates, but that clearly is not the case with Rodriguez.

“He is someone we all look up to,” sophomore outfielder AJ Valencia said. “It’s the way he approaches everything.”

Rodriguez’s attitude toward life and sports was the same long before getting baptized. He has been asking his parents since he was 13 to be baptized. They told him to wait and to be sure he was ready.

Clearly, this was the right time.

It is a memory that will never fade. A journey shared with brother and father that will forever be ingrained. A relationship that is now stronger than ever.

“It is something I will never forget,” he said. “I have done a lot of thing in sports, but nothing compares to this. I will take this with me for the rest of my life.”

Contact writer: (480) 898-7915 or Follow him on Twitter JSkoda@AFN.

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