He was in the middle of a workout session when Stump Mitchell entered the weight room.
The coach had an announcement to make. Inherently, Southern University safety Demetric Rogers felt bad news was on the way.
But he didn’t expect this.
It was late summer. Rogers walked up the stairs to the second floor of the A.W. Mumford Field House and into Mitchell’s office.
Rogers sat down and listened to the coach explain why he had to take away the senior’s scholarship. Because of Southern’s poor Academic Progress Rate, the NCAA docked the program nine scholarships.
Mitchell had to cut somewhere.
Rogers heard the words, but not really. He was a little numb.
“Right then, I was saying to myself, ?OK. He has the power. There’s nothing I can do but accept it,’” he said.
The more Rogers thought about it, the worse he felt. Eventually, it hit him like a baseball bat to the gut.
Sure, the undersized, step-too-slow safety had a disappointing season in 2010. But he’d gone to class, groaned through study halls, hit the weights and said ?Yessir’ the whole way through. In December, he was set to graduate with a degree in therapeutic recreation.
Heck, if anything, the 5-foot-10, 182-pound Rogers figured his coach, Mitchell, could relate. The 5-foot-8 former running back had always been told he’d never make in the NFL, and Mitchell was a nine-year pro.
“As I went home and thought about it, I was like, ?Why me? I’m doing everything right. How did I come into the equation?’”
Fast-forward three months.
It’s the first day of October, and the Jaguars (1-3, 1-1 Southwestern Athletic Conference) find themselves in a virtual must-win. At 2 p.m. Saturday in Itta Bena, Miss., they face Mississippi Valley State (0-4, 0-3) at Rice-Totten Stadium.
Southern has blown fourth-quarter leads in back-to-back games, and a once-promising season is already on the verge of ruins. The team cannot afford to lose against Valley.
Through the first four games, however, at least one player has not only met expectations, but blown them away.
Care to guess who it is?
If your first stab is in the direction of Rogers - who ranks first on the team with two interceptions and third with 28 tackles; who had a super-productive high school career but drew nary a scholarship offer; who walked on to SU and became a star in ‘09, only to falter when he earned a scholarship the next year - well, you’d be right on the money.
Three months ago, after Mitchell pulled his scholarship, Rogers nearly quit. Now he’s an inspirational leader. And his coach is happily gobbling spoonfuls of humble pie.
“He’s paying his own way to go to Southern right now,” Mitchell said. “But he’s a guy that I just love, simply because he didn’t hold grudges against me because I did what I had to do in that situation. And he’s playing his butt off. I just appreciate it.”
In truth, Rogers is sort of used to this routine. Every step of the way, he’s been forced to prove his worth.
David Masterson, his coach at Northeast High School, can tell you all about it.
In Rogers, he saw everything the college recruiters never saw. In Rogers, he saw a great athlete who, while at Northeast, played wide receiver, free safety, kick returner, punter and, most notably, quarterback. Rogers finished a productive career with more than 5,000 yards from scrimmage.
Rogers’ teammates all loved him, too. They called him “Head.”
Actually, everyone does.
“When I was born, one of my cousins gave me that nickname,” he said.
Did he have a big head or something?
“I don’t know. I guess so. When you have your childhood friends and that’s what they call you, it sticks.”
Yes, the nickname stuck around. But college recruiters never did.
They looked at predictable things like height, weight and 40 times.
“They all said it: ?He’s not big enough. He’s not fast enough,’ “ Masterson recalled. “I always came back with the same thing: ?Can he play football? Just watch the film.’ “
Resigned to his fate, Rogers enrolled at Southern as a regular student. He returned to Northeast each day to serve as a volunteer assistant coach, working with the quarterbacks.
In his second year at SU, he played on an intramural football team, and he excelled. That got his brain moving. Rogers was sitting with Masterson one day when he floated the question: Hey, coach, I think I want to walk on. What do you think?
Naturally, Masterson was all for it. He could just see the next steps unfolding: The coaching staff would give him no shot, and Rogers would keep making plays.
One day, that summer, Rogers was in a Piccadilly restaurant when he stumbled into then-coach Pete Richardson and defensive coordinator Terrence Graves.
“They said to me, ?Are you ready for camp?’ “ Rogers recalled. “I was like, ?Am I coming to camp?’ “
He was. And just as Masterson predicted, Rogers made the steady climb, from fourth-string free safety to backup strong safety. Throw in an injury and another lineup shuffle, and by the second game of the ‘09 season, he was a starter.
He finished as the team’s fourth-leading tackler, with 51 stops. He added two interceptions, a fumble recovery and a blocked field-goal attempt.
Rogers began last season as a starter - and though his stat line was similar (41 tackles, two fumble recoveries, one interception), even he will admit that 2010 was a mess. The team went 2-9, and all too often, Rogers looked lost, turning receivers loose in coverage.
Months later, Mitchell had to cut somewhere.
That left the senior at a crossroads.
Should he give up football? Transfer? Or grit his teeth and stick it out?
His was close to graduating. And his life is here. He has a 4-year-old daughter, Marlaejah, whom he adores. And most days, he still passes by Northeast.
But his teammates were the clincher.
“I love these boys like they’re my brothers,” Rogers said. “They were telling me, ?Don’t worry. Keep your head up. We’re going to make it work.’ “
Rogers not only stayed, he doubled down. His scholarship was already gone, but he worked again like he had something to lose.
Left tackle Chris Browne told Rogers he now sees the same player he used to see in ‘09 - a gritty walk-on with hunger, with something to prove.
Defensive coordinator O’Neill Gilbert said the difference in Rogers is “night and day. He has not only been a good player for us, he’s been a leader. ... But he has been steady for us. He’s been rock-solid.”
Mitchell said he sees a more mature player - a guy who not only got comfortable with the new defensive scheme, but went all in with it.
And up the road at Northeast High, the old coach, Masterson, just chuckles.
He saw it all coming.
“Head is almost a throwback to those ‘60s guys,” Masterson said. “He’s just going to smile at you with those big bug eyes and say, ?OK, coach.’ Then he’ll gut it out and go do his job.”