That first season was fun. In fact, for Demetric Rogers, that first season could not have been much better.
In 2009, the young man joined the Southern football team in time for preseason camp. He was a walk-on and when you’re a walk-on, of course, you can’t bank on a whole lot of playing time.
He began as a fourth-string safety. Over a three-week period, however, Rogers moved his way up to second string.
Then, after an injury here and a lineup shuffle there, Rogers, though undersized at 5-foot-10, was a starter in the Jaguars secondary.
Things went well. He finished that season as the team’s fourth-leading tackler, with 51 stops. He added two interceptions and a fumble recovery. He even blocked a field-goal attempt.
Yes, that first season was fun.
Last season, on the other hand? Not as fun.
It wasn’t just that Southern went 2-9 in Stump Mitchell’s first year as coach. Rogers didn’t look quite like the player teammates had seen before.
“Yeah, I’d say I had an off year,” Rogers said. “But I’m back this year. I’m back. I feel healthy. I feel much better than I felt before.”
If that translates to the field, SU’s secondary could be in much better shape.
At first glance, Rogers’ 2010 drop-off didn’t seem drastic.
The former Northeast High standout still ranked fifth with 41 tackles. He also had two fumble recoveries and an interception.
Still, Rogers said he didn’t feel right.
He had hoped for a steady rise toward stardom. Instead, in his first season under defensive coordinator O’Neill Gilbert, he looked a little lost.
Playing more often in space than he had before - former coordinator Terrence Graves often used Rogers near the line of scrimmage - he was sometimes burned by tight ends and receivers.
“I was only in coach (Pete) Richardson’s system for one year. Then I had to adapt to a new defense, which caused me to do a lot more things besides just being in the (tackling) box,” Rogers said. “And with the new defense, I was in coverage more and sometimes I’d be in the box. There’d be a lot of rotating. It was a change for me.”
In fact, his struggles often mirrored those of the entire defense.
Opponents averaged 8.5 yards per pass attempt against Southern, the second-highest mark in the Southwestern Athletic Conference (only Mississippi Valley State, which gave up 8.8 yards per attempt, was worse).
No one allowed more passing attempts than Southern, which gave up 25.
As for Rogers, well, he believes there’s such a thing as bounce-back year.
Between the ‘09 and ‘10 seasons, he added about 10 pounds of muscle. Looking back, Rogers said he wonders if his body wasn’t used to carrying the extra weight.
“This year, I’m at about 191,” he said. “But because (I was) carrying that 195 last year, I think I can adjust a little better now.”
As it turned out, Rogers played much of last season with an injured right shoulder, which was aggravated whenever he tried to make tackles.
He underwent surgery in the offseason, and though the rehab wasn’t much fun, he said he feels better.
During preseason camp, Rogers has played extensively with the first- and second-team units.
He has even moonlighted as a rugby-style punter during special-teams periods (we’ll leave it at this: The punting business is still a work in progress).
It’s too early to know if Rogers will start again.
Secondary coach Donnie Henderson has played a frequent mix-and-match game during camp, and Rogers often shuttles in and out with fellow safeties Anthony Balancier, Levi Jackson and a host of others.
So far, however, the coaching staff seems to like what it’s seen.
“We’re expecting a lot from Demetric Rogers, for him to have a much better year than he did last year,” Mitchell said. “So far in training camp, he’s doing that. He’s a different person. So we’re happy with that.”
So, too, is Rogers.
Dry fields, minor injuries
Wide receiver Jared Green and cornerback Virgil Williams both sat out Thursday’s practice with minor groin injuries, said Mitchell, who noted that a lack of rain has dried and hardened the practice fields, making players more susceptible to ankle injuries and pulled muscles.
The team has two main practice fields, but has worked almost exclusively on the field nearest to A.W. Mumford Stadium, which is higher and in better condition.
SU has spread sand on the adjacent field, but doesn’t want to use it until the sand settles.
“The sand that we’ve spread, we haven’t been able to water it,” Mitchell said. “We don’t want that kicking up.”
End of two-a-days
Friday marks the final two-a-day session for Southern - and the day will start early.
Mitchell told his team to report for the first session at 6 a.m. Friday, thereby giving players a chance to finish practice and still have ample time to take care of last-minute registration and financial-aid issues.
A handful of players missed Thursday’s practice because they were stuck in registration lines.
“And these lines are starting at 4 o’clock in the morning,” Mitchell said.
The fall semester begins Monday.
Unhappy with the defensive effort Thursday, Mitchell made the entire unit run two laps at the end of practice. ... Registration forced freshman RG Isaiah Webster, who has worked with the first team, to miss practice Thursday. Sophomore Taylon Jones took his place. ... RB Dallas Fort has returned to practice. Fort missed parts of last week and this week, including SU’s first scrimmage, after he suffered a concussion from colliding with S Levi Jackson. ... G Julius Magee (concussion) has also missed practice this week.