It is one thing to hear coaches and administrators sing the praises of such and such student-athlete as a leader with a strong work ethic. Their opinions matter and they are speaking from experience with the person.

And yet, the best proof in that particular pudding comes from the actions of the student-athlete, which is why Ryan Rodriguez is a rare commodity that has always backed up what his mentors have had to say about him.

Explaining why he chose to sign a scholarship agreement with Texas A&M-Corpus Christi Wednesday, even before the latest Vela baseball season got started in earnest, Rodriguez was, well Rodriguez.

“I decided to do it because I didn’t want to take the focus off the team,” said the hard-hitting infielder who was an equally hard hitter on the football field for three seasons. “Once we get going, I want it to be about the team, not me, and that is something I wanted to do from a leadership perspective.”

Surrounded by family and friends – and not a small gaggle of local political big wigs who are also, partly, family – Rodriguez put the pen to paper and became an Islander-in-waiting. His coaches, Jaime Perez and Michael Salinas, told the crowd about his work habits and dedication, which are legendary, and both expect the young man to do well at the next level, in all ways.

The signing was one of a recent spate of them, as earlier in the school year Ryan Garza inked a basketball letter to St Edward’s. More recently, 60 percent of the Valley’s finest offensive line decided to go en masse to Southern Nazarene: Jaime Alaniz, Joey Carreon, and Caleb Luna.

Now Ryan Rod, who hit .356 as a sophomore and then .388 with 27 RBI and 14 doubles in 2016, when the SaberCats made school history by going three-deep in the playoffs. Vela’s senior season promises to be excellent, as Perez brings back a solid cast of athletes. Missing would be the seemingly ageless trio of Johnny Davila, John Trevino, and Elijah Reyna, but Rodriguez said that he is looking forward to picking up the mantle of leadership in their stead.

“I’ve been waiting for my chance to do it, absolutely,” said Rodriguez, who added that picking Corpus allowed him to be close to home and still fulfill a lifelong dream of playing Division I baseball. “Being a senior and getting the chance to lead is something special.”

The Sabes head into the latest diamond season with dominant pitching, some veteran bats belonging to Rodriguez and R.J. Ochoa, among others, and a chance to compete for the school’s first 6A championship.

“I think we have the team to do it,” said Rodriguez, who noted that the Vela’s non-district schedule – chock full of South Texas powerhouses such as Laredo United, Del Rio, and CC Moody – will test the mettle of the bunch, fast. “It’s always good to play against the best, you have to be able to compete against everyone.”