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June 6, 2014

NYC troublemaker-turned-TV star found focus in Leelanau woods

GLEN ARBOR — The city grit stuck to Ramon Rodriguez when he arrived to The Leelanau School at age 14 — he could break out of his dorm like nobody's business.

But the tough New York City streets had nothing on a forest at 5 a.m.

"I ran all the way. It was dark. The quiet was terrifying," Rodriguez said. "I thought a bear was going to eat me."

The sprint of terror from dorm to gym was part of his adaption, as Rodriguez went from "troubled kid" to television star, and The Leelanau School was a "pivotal" part of his journey, he said. Memories picked up speed as the Puerto Rico-born basketball player, dancer and actor walked the school grounds today.

"It's bizarre being back here," he said. "A lot of it looks the same." He halted like a chagrined student in front of the Presidents' Office. "I never had to go here before," he laughed.

Rodriguez, 34, will give the school's commencement address Saturday. He just wrapped filming the action feature "Need for Speed" in Detroit and launched his new Fox television series "Gang-Related" last month. The HBO series "The Wire" and "The Taking of Pelham 123" are among his credits.

But he chalked up his success to being "adaptable," a skill he learned when he left the East Manhattan studio apartment he shared with his mom and three sisters, and was plunked into Michigan's northwoods with a full ride scholarship to the exclusive boarding school.

"There were all of these trees around ... and all of these white people," Rodriguez said. "And everyone was so nice. It took a while to realize that that's just the way people are up here, that they're not just trying to get something from you."

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