Long before the days of kicking camps, kicking coaches, even kicking specialists, even before the first sidewinder place-kickers, Paul Rogers was setting kicking records for Nebraska.
But he never wanted to be called a kicker or a specialist. He always wanted to be known as Paul Rogers, the football player.
He carried the ball seven times for 14 yards and caught three passes for 31 yards in his short career as a wingback.
But to show how important he was, (then) coach Bob Devaney chose Rogers to move to defensive back in 1970 to make room for little- known wingback Johnny Rodgers.
“If I hadn’t agreed to the move, he (Rodgers) probably would have never gotten on the field,” Rogers said with a laugh.
What Rogers did for Nebraska was as important as any player’s contribution.
After the Huskers went 6-4 in 1967 and 1968, Devaney was feeling the heat from Nebraska fans. And the 6-4 record in 1968 was due in part to Rogers’ right foot. He kicked a school-record 51-yard field goal with 21 seconds left to lift Nebraska past Wyoming in the season opener. He kicked game winners against Minnesota and Oklahoma State in the final minutes, too.
In the 1969 Sun Bowl against Georgia, Rogers kicked four field goals (50, 32, 42 and 37 yards) in the first quarter.
“Coach Devaney told me I saved his job with that kick against Wyoming,” said Rogers, who has lived in Omaha since graduating from Nebraska.
Rogers was recruited from Central Lyons Community Township High in Rock Rapids, Iowa, as a running back/defensive back. He was the Iowa all-state running back, was a state sprint champion and chose Nebraska because the position of wingback seemed perfect for him.
He also kicked some. In 1967, in the days when NU freshmen could not play varsity, Rogers was a solid running back on the freshman team with Guy Ingles, Wally Winter, Dan Schneiss, Jerry Murtaugh and Danny Malone. Rogers also kicked for the freshmen. The next spring, he chose to spend some more time kicking and started for the White team in the Spring Game because the only other kicker on the team was the starter for the Red team, Bill Bomberger.
“One thing led to another and I was starting in my first varsity game against Wyoming, in a big game because Devaney and most of his coaching staff were from Wyoming,” Rogers said.
Before his career at Nebraska was over, Rogers had a national championship ring and all the NU records for kicking. He also held three Big Eight records, including career field goals (19), longest (55 yards) and percentage.
“I always gave Devaney grief about not getting me in the backfield more,” Rogers said. “I kept asking to run the ball and he kept telling me they could always find another running back but couldn’t find another kicker.”
Rogers was drafted by the Pittsburgh Steelers but they then picked up a veteran. He signed with the New York Giants but was eventually cut.
“I got to see the inside of pro football and I was even given some attention at the start of the World Football League, but it was time to get serious about a career,” Rogers said.
He joined IBM and has worked in high-tech sales since. Currently, Rogers works with Choice Solutions in Omaha. “Sales is an education process and I feel that I can help people understand the latest high-tech solution,” he said.
The father of two girls: Samantha, who recently earned a master’s degree in sports administration, and Sabrina, a freshman soccer player for defending Division II national champion UNO, Rogers has added soccer to his field of expertise.
“Of course I had to go to coaching clinics to learn to kick the ball properly,” said Rogers, who was a straight-on kicker. “I tried kicking a field goal with the sidekick and I almost injured myself.”
Rogers became a specialist after he arrived in Lincoln. “I was kind of the bridge from the all-around player who kicked to the kicker-only guy because the guy after me, Rich Sanger, although a good linebacker, was strictly a kicker at Nebraska. After that, they always recruited kickers … and good ones, too. Kris and Josh Brown. Darin Erstad, Dale Klein. It seems they always have somebody pretty good in there.”
Reach Ken Hambleton at 473-7313 or firstname.lastname@example.org.