The way Nebraska’s defensive line is currently constructed, a substantial amount of beef stands between Casey Rogers and a starting job.
For the moment, that’s just fine by the redshirt freshman from New York. It’s not that Rogers is content with being a reserve — albeit one that has impressed defensive line coach Tony Tuioti and who could push for some playing time this fall — but rather that he knows situations can change fast in the college football world.
And he knows, too, that his time is coming. It just remains unclear exactly when that will be.
“It’s a privilege to be in that room right now as a redshirt freshman, because every day you go into a room with guys who are outstanding football players and there’s so much stuff you can learn and grab out of what they do in their games,” he said Monday.
Rogers knows about rapid change himself. In high school, he was a nationally recruited lacrosse standout who verbally pledged to play at Syracuse, where his dad, Lelan, is an assistant coach. Then he decided to take a graduate year to try to attract football suitors, starring at Avon Old Farms in Connecticut. It worked, and since he arrived on campus at NU last summer, he has grown from 249 pounds to around 295. He was likely ticketed for a redshirt year regardless last fall, but a torn labrum took away any chance of even a small amount of playing time under the new redshirt rules.
“Everything was so new to me and I didn’t know what to expect,” said Rogers, who returned to full strength shortly before spring ball. “With my dad coaching, I’ve seen kids redshirt and I’ve seen kids who took it the wrong way, I’ve seen them take it and know their role and stuff like that. That’s one thing I really focused on a lot was knowing my role. I knew, hey, I’m a little undersized, I’m young, I don’t know the schemes that well yet, I’m the new guy. I’m just going to do my part on being as positive as possible for those guys, being there for them when they come off the field and giving them high fives and stuff like that.”
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That role has already started to change. First-year defensive line coach Tony Tuioti has consistently pegged six players — the Davis and Daniels brothers, Ben Stille and Deontre Thomas — as his top six, and now is trying to get new junior college transfer Jahkeem Green up to speed as fast as possible. And yet, there is a next wave beginning to take shape with Rogers, fellow redshirt freshman Tate Wildeman and freshmen Ty Robinson and Mosai Newsom, among others.
“(Rogers has) done a great job in fall camp,” defensive coordinator Erik Chinander said. “With him, if we’re running most of the base package he’s going to be really, really good. He’s not quite like those older guys where he can get in and out of some of the stuff right now, but he’s done a lot of really nice things in camp, and I think he’s going to provide us with some depth if we need him.”
Said Rogers, “We all know in the back of our minds that we’re here for the next four years and the guys that are leaving after this year, that will be a hard loss, but all of us know in the back of our minds that, hey, we’re up next. Not that we’re looking forward to next year, but we all know that we have to compete just as hard as they are because next year when our time is up and we’re on those first two lines, we’ve got to produce and do the same stuff they’re doing.”
As such, Rogers is learning as much as he can, particularly from Oklahoma State graduate transfer Darrion Daniels, who happens to be his roommate.
“He had just got here (this winter) and he lived in the dorms for a little bit and we were all moving off campus and I actually had a roommate that had to cancel,” Rogers explained. “Then I went up to Darrion and it’s the best decision I’ve ever made. It’s been the coolest half a year of my life so far.
“It’s really cool being in a house with him and learning what he does. Even stuff that doesn’t have to do with football, he’s a man and he can teach me a lot of stuff just about life.”