There are high-energy players, and then there’s Southern Oregon University senior defensive end Sean Rogers.
And there’s no better way to sum that up than how Rogers described his feelings toward the 2018 season — his final one with the Raiders — getting underway on Sept. 1 against rival Eastern Oregon.
“The gas tank is absolutely full. It’s like going to Shell and filling up on premium,” Rogers said. “Fill her up.”
Knowing what happened in 2017 and the Raiders getting so close to making their third national championship game in the last four seasons, it’s easy to understand why the gas in Rogers’ tank is seemingly about to overflow in wake of training camp beginning last weekend.
“One inch just wasn’t enough,” Rogers said. “We found that we’re one inch away from a national championship, that is 30 days more work. That one inch is 30 days more work. ... Coming that close, showed a lot of people how much work it takes to win a national championship, and you have to be better than every other team in the nation. That’s something that’s really hard to do and it’s a 365-day goal.”
Rogers knows better than most on the SOU squad what getting to a national championship game — and winning a title — takes off the field and on it.
The Raiders’ title run in 2014 was the same year where Rogers arrived in Ashland.
It was there, like every other true freshman on the Raiders’ roster that season, that Rogers learned what SOU football is about and what the expectations are.
“We have a saying that we stand on the shoulders of giants,” Rogers said. “I came in, it was told to me and I didn’t really understand it — but I do now as a senior because I’ve been here for five years. You come in, you stand on the shoulders of giants, it means you’re going to come in here, you’re going to become one of us, you’re going to become part of the culture or you’re not going to make it.”
Rogers’ first start came as a redshirt freshman the next season in 2015. It just so happened to be in the Raiders’ second straight trip to the NAIA national title game.
Since then, it’s been nothing but building to where he is today.
“What (reaching a national title game) does is that it instills it in the younger guys, so the motto didn’t drop, the standard didn’t drop just because I was a freshman,” Rogers said. “I had the same standards for myself as the seniors did, and it’s hard because when you come in you knew you were the guy senior year (of high school) and you had this ego that you knew everything — and you don’t. Coming in here, building off of 2014, what Coach (Craig) Howard and Coach (Charlie) Hall really understood is that it’s a buy-in thing.”
Rogers was in opponents’ backfields so much last season he might as well put up residence behind the line of scrimmage.
An NAIA All-American selection by the Associated Press, the 6-foot-5 Rogers was one of the biggest standout players on a Southern Oregon defense that was littered with experience and talent.
In 13 games, Rogers recorded a Frontier Conference-best 14 sacks and 17 tackles for losses — both of those totals were some of the best in the country.
In Southern Oregon’s national semifinal loss in overtime to Reinhardt, Rogers recorded three of those 14 sacks on the season.
“I was on the field (against Reinhardt) when it was fourth-and-1 and we needed a goal line stop,” Rogers said. “First down, game over. Just utter disbelief.”
No matter the individual accolades or a sack total that nearly led the nation a year ago, the sole focus this season is about getting the Raiders back to where they were when he was a teenager — playing for a national title.
“You need buy in to your program, you need to buy in to your teammates because there’s no individual success in football — that’s a joke,” Rogers said. “It’s completely and 100 percent team success and you only have that if people are bought in and care for each other.”
As they did in 2017, Rogers will be one of the players SOU looks to follow for success as the 2018 season approaches.
And you better believe that, along with his gas tank being as full as can be, that he’s well aware that on a talented defense, being a senior leader is one of the biggest aspects of the game he needs to bring to the table this fall.
“Leadership, I’m learning, isn’t coming from myself, it’s coming from what guys give me,” Rogers said. “I can’t be a leader unless they look at me as a leader. I can’t tell them to cross the line if I’m not the first one to cross the line. I can’t tell them how to pass rush if I’m not doing it in my pass rush. If a coach is chewing me out for talking too much, I can’t tell them not to talk. Part of learning how to be a leader in this program is the younger guys teach you how to be a leader. You have to be able to conform to who’s around you, and I can’t go chew out eight guys for 30 minutes and expect them to follow me.”
Contact Danny Penza at 541-776-4483 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @penzatopaper.