By Nick Abramo
The Hawaii football community lost one of its own on Friday when former Aiea and Arizona State standout offensive lineman Brandon Rodd died of a rare form of cancer. He was 28.
“I woke up this morning, hoping it was just a dream,” said Wendell Say, Rodd’s coach at Aiea. “I found out yesterday and it was a nightmare. It just shocked me. He was in the prime of his life. It makes you wonder. There’s guys out there who get in trouble and have big rap sheets and they live forever. And then the good kids who do the right things, they get taken away at a young age.”
Say mentioned that Rodd texted him about three weeks ago to tell him that he had some stomach pains and that it was so bad he was rushed to the hospital.
“He texted me every day, wanted to let me know that I was a big influence on his life (Rodd’s dad passed away when he was younger). He said he was going to go to chemo and was saying he was going to be all right.
“I’m kicking myself right now, though,” the longtime Na Alii coach said. “And I was just crying, reading his first text. I didn’t know it had gotten so bad.”
Rodd was a heavily recruited player, and it was somewhat of a surprise to some when he chose Arizona State over UH after graduating from Aiea in 2003. He was a three-time honorable mention All-Pac-10 left tackle and was named Pac-10 All-Academic four times. He also spent time with the Buffalo Bills and Oakland Raiders of the NFL.
“And he was such a beach boy,” Say said. “We never thought he would leave Hawaii because he was always surfing and paddling and at the beach. When he first started practicing with us, he was in surf shorts.”
According to Say, Rodd was engaged to be married and was working as a sales representative with a distribution company.
“He told me the NFL wasn’t what he expected,” Say said. “He said it was OK in Buffalo, but then in Oakland, the other players said they were there to help you, but it was cutthroat, guys wanting to help you until it’s time to keep their jobs and then they hate you. He wasn’t happy (about that).”
A few months after walking away from pro football, the 6-foot-4 Rodd dropped from 315 pounds to 250, Say said, and had gotten into running and was back doing what he always loved about Hawaii, surfing and paddling.
And he didn’t regret his decision.
“He loved football. He was a competitor,” Say said. “Knowing him, he was probably ignoring the pain for a long time, shrugging it off like kids shrug off pain to practice. I visited with his mom, Val, yesterday and she told me that he looked at the cancer like it was one more thing to fight through like he was fighting through another football game.
“Brandon was the type of person that if he said he was going to do something, he did it. He said he was going to go to college and start and he said he was going to go to the NFL and he did.”
Rodd graduated from ASU in 2007. He started 36 of the 37 games he played for the Sun Devils and competed in both the East-West Shrine Game and the Hula Bowl as a senior.
“One day, we went to see Brandon practicing for the Hula Bowl (at Aloha Stadium),” Say said. “Afterward, my daughter, who has epilepsy, had a seizure, and just to show you what kind of guy Brandon was, he would not leave until he knew everything was OK. He was such a great kid. He was a big guy, but he was always smiling.”
Rodd was a 2002 Star-Bulletin All-State first-team selection. Another of the five lineman chosen that year was Max Unger of Hawaii Prep, who won a Super Bowl with Seattle on Feb. 2.
Say said lots of Rodd’s Arizona State teammates have been calling Rodd’s family to offer their condolences.
Aside from Val, Rodd is survived by a brother, Jared, and two sisters, Aimee and Nicol.