While growing up in Long Beach, Calif., playing sports wasn’t so much of a hobby for Na’im Rodman as it was a requirement.
“It was a rule in our house: you can’t just sit at home; you’ve got to play and do something,” said Rodman, now a sophomore defensive lineman for the Colorado Buffaloes.
Rodman’s older sisters, Nyah and Nia, both played multiple sports and both were on softball teams in college. There have been multiple generations of athletes, too, as Rodman’s grandfather and uncle both played football in college.
In playing at CU, Rodman is carrying on a tradition.
“I try to carry it every day, showing that it’s in the blood,” he said.
The man who got Rodman into sports was not a college athlete, however.
“He served in the Marines,” he said of his father, Keith.
During his youth, Rodman had a close relationship with his father, but Keith passed away in February of 2014, when Rodman was in seventh grade. Rodman’s continued success in his athletics is a tribute to his late father.
“Pops was the reason I play sports today,” Rodman said. “He didn’t let me just sit out there. He’s like, ‘If you’re gonna be outside, I want you to learn something and get good at something.’ The first sport I played was baseball. Then he got me into football and then I played basketball, just trying different things.”
Prior to coming to CU in 2019, Rodman also played rugby for a year, and he enjoys fishing and swimming.
More than any other sport, Rodman excelled at football. The 6-foot-2, 300-pound lineman played at St. John Bosco, one of the top high school programs in the country. He had 59 tackles, 13 tackles for loss and three sacks as a senior and was a three-star recruit.
He then became an instant contributor for the Buffs, playing in all 12 games – including two as a starter – as a true freshman in 2019.
Last year, Rodman didn’t play as much while he adjusted to new line coach Chris Wilson, but was routinely praised during this past spring and has carried that into the first week of preseason camp this month.
“Anything I feel like I struggled on in the spring, I’ve just tried to work on that and just keep building off of that and try to become the most complete defensive player I could be,” Rodman said.
Rodman had minimal impact in playing just 89 snaps last year but said the season helped him get better and learn from veterans Terrance Lang, Mustafa Johnson and others.
“It was just harder to learn different techniques and stuff,” he said. “I used that year to sit back and watch the older guys, like T-Lang and Mustafa, watch how they do it. They helped me out and they helped me get better and I used that to pick me up and keep going.”
This season, the Buffs have a young group at defensive line. Wilson, the Buffs’ defensive coordinator, is working to get that group up to speed before the Sept. 3 opener against Northern Colorado.
“When your fronts become great, your teams become great,” Wilson said. “Every place I’ve been where you win championships, you are dominant up front. And so we’ve got to get more guys going that direction. And I’ve been pleased with Na’im. He’s been leading that progression for us.”
Now in his third year at CU, Rodman can see a change in himself.
“I feel like I’m quicker,” he said. “My change of direction is way better. I’m way better with my hands in pass rushing and most of all, I feel like I’m a way smarter player.”
Learning from Wilson, Lang, Johnson and others has helped Rodman get to this point, but family is the main motivator and he’s energized every day by his mother, Norja Rodman.
“Mom is the woman of the house. She runs everything,” Rodman said with a smile. “I love my mom. She pushes me. Every day I talk to her. Even in fall camp, I try my best to talk to her. She helps me keep my head on straight.”
Rodman is also fueled by memories of his father, who has been gone seven years but is still very much in his son’s heart.
“It’s tough but I wake up and I just think about it every day,” he said. “I just realize with the stuff he told me and the stuff he taught me, he wouldn’t want me to sit back and do nothing.
“He’s still watching, and he wants me to keep going. He wants to hear those screams on the field and stuff. I keep going every day and I’ll talk to him.”