Land of 10 has embarked on a series of “Next Generation” articles, a project that aims to bring our readers greater insight into the Class of 2018 signees. Land of 10 Nebraska reporter Erin Sorensen is visiting the incoming freshman class and will introduce the Nebraska fan base to the newest Huskers. Today we feature defensive end Casey Rogers.
AVON, Conn. — “You know, you need to get football out of Casey’s mind.”
“Stop talking about football with Casey.”
“He’s going to be a really good lacrosse player.”
Terri Rebeor Rogers, Casey Rogers’ mom, has heard it all. As her son went back and forth with his decision to play college football or lacrosse, plenty of people chimed in with advice.
Terri couldn’t imagine keeping Casey from football. She couldn’t imagine telling Casey what sport to choose. But knowing how much he loved football, her response to those offering advice always was the same.
“Have you ever seen him play football? Yeah, he’s a really good lacrosse player, but you should see him play football.”
Many people who know Casey assumed lacrosse was his future. He had grown up around the sport, thanks in part to his dad — a veteran lacrosse coach — and his upstate New York upbringing. His family moved to Syracuse in 2007 when his dad, Lelan Rogers, was hired as an assistant coach for the Orange men’s lacrosse team. His sister, Paige, became a standout player for Syracuse’s women’s lacrosse team.
It was common to find Casey with a lacrosse stick in hand at a young age. By the time he was a sophomore in high school, he committed to play lacrosse for his dad at Syracuse.
He could be completing his freshman year at Syracuse this spring. That is, if football hadn’t always been in the back of his mind.
Casey’s love for football began in kindergarten. He’d watch his elementary school’s Pop Warner teams every day after school. Terri, a laboratory manager at a medical office at the time, would pick him up after work. When she arrived, Casey always had the same question.
“Why can’t I play?”
The answer was simple. There were two teams: one for third- and fourth-graders, and another for fifth- and sixth-graders. Casey’s sister was old enough to play, but he wasn’t.
He was big enough, though. He could easily line up next to players a few years his senior, but the teachers weren’t convinced. Casey kept asking. With enough persistence, he found his way on to the third- and fourth-grade team as a first-grader.
“He was so excited every day after school,” Terri said. “He was going to play football, and I’m telling you, that got him to school on a lot of days.”
That’s because while Rogers loved lacrosse, he always loved football a little more.
It took Bill Mella, a math teacher and the football coach at Avon Old Farms, three plays from Casey’s Hudl highlights to understand the defensive end’s talent. Well, it might have actually been two.
Play No. 1: Casey comes off the edge as a rusher, slaps a kid to the ground and chases down the quarterback.
Play No. 2: Casey lines up as the No. 1 receiver, runs a post route, gets caught behind two people and manages to catch the ball.
Play No. 3: Mella only remembers it was a defensive play.
“I was barely watching the third play,” Mella said. “I was looking for his dad’s number at that point.”
Casey had graduated from Westhill High School in Syracuse with only one football scholarship offer, from Western Michigan. Hoping for more exposure, the Rogers family pursued the idea of a prep school for Casey.
Mella knew what he could do for Casey, but he wanted to better understand the kind of player he’d get in return. His biggest question was how Casey would react to competing with and against players of his same caliber. How they react to that pressure tells Mella everything he needs to know.
That’s where those three plays come into the picture. As Mella watched Casey’s highlights, he saw the kind of athlete Casey was play out in front of him.
“For me, it was never a question whether or not he could play at the higher level,” Mella said.
Once at Avon Old Farms, Casey’s 2017 football season passed by with little fanfare on the recruiting front. Despite helping the Winged Beavers to an 8-1 season — their only loss was in the New England Class A championship bowl game — Rogers had yet to receive the attention he wanted.
The silence was deafening.
“I was really fighting for an offer and I really wanted one,” Casey said. “I just kept telling myself to be patient.”
Patience can be tricky, though. Casey did his best to stay positive, but that didn’t stop some doubt from creeping through.
Have I done enough?
What could have I done differently?
He’d spent the 2017 summer on the camp circuit, visiting schools such as Alabama, Penn State, Ohio State, Colorado and West Virginia. He even met with Alabama coach Nick Saban in Tuscaloosa.
Yet, the offers never came.
The 6-foot-5, 260-pound defensive end didn’t give up. He used his lack of offers as motivation. At Avon Old Farms, he recorded 33 tackles, 8 solo. He also had 2 sacks and caused 1 fumble. By the end of the season, he was the No. 6 athlete in Connecticut, according to MaxPreps.
He watched as his friends and teammates committed to programs and their futures. He was happy for them, but it didn’t help silence the doubts.
Casey couldn’t imagine life without football. He’d given up a Division I lacrosse scholarship, so there was plenty on the line. He didn’t regret the decision; he just wanted an opportunity to chase his football dreams.
Two weeks after Avon Old Farms’ season ended, Casey’s patience paid off. Vanderbilt offered a scholarship on Dec. 4.
“And right after that, the magic happened,” Casey said.
“The magic” appeared in the form of offers from Cal, Temple and Rutgers. There also were official visits to Alabama and Ohio State, despite neither school offering in the end. While humbled and appreciative of the offers he was compiling, Casey had hoped for more.
He was still looking for a college football blue blood to make an offer.
Nebraska hired Scott Frost on Dec. 2, 2017. The Huskers’ 2018 recruiting class was on life support, and Frost quickly went to work reviving it. Part of that revival? A phone call to Casey Rogers.
On Dec. 27, new Huskers defensive line coach Mike Dawson called with a scholarship offer. Casey was interested and scheduled an official visit for Jan. 12.
Having never been to Nebraska, Casey didn’t know what to expect. He wasn’t even sure what to think about the football team. The Huskers’ last national championship was won a year before Casey was born, so Lelan was tasked with telling Casey all about the Huskers.
By the end of the official visit, Lelan, Terri and Casey agreed that Nebraska felt like the right place. All three left awestruck with what the Huskers had to offer.
“Once [Casey] bought into it, he was like, ‘Hey, this is a great school and great program,’ ” Lelan said. “Then we visited, saw the school, saw the facilities and saw how they revered the football program.
“Football is king there, which is what he wanted.”
Casey also wanted to feel wanted, which is exactly what Frost delivered. As Casey and his parents departed Lincoln on Jan. 14, Frost, Dawson and defensive coordinator Erik Chinander got on a plane to Connecticut. On Monday morning — one day after Casey’s official visit ended — the coaches sat with Casey at Avon Old Farms.
Casey verbally committed to Nebraska on Tuesday.
It could be said that Casey was born for the Big Ten. On Dec. 18, 1998, he was delivered at the Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center, just 1½ miles from Ohio Stadium.
The Rogerses were living in Columbus at the time, with Terri working at Ohio State while Lelan coached lacrosse at Ohio Wesleyan from 1991-99. She often attended Buckeyes football games and stood in awe of the stadium.
Casey’s connection to the Buckeyes ultimately led to an Ohio State camp and an official visit. Terri only hoped Casey wouldn’t be disappointed if it didn’t pan out in Columbus. That was never the case for Casey. He just wanted to play big-time football.
Although in hindsight, it may be more appropriate to say Big Ten football.
“I think his heart kind of lied in the Big Ten,” Lelan said. “When the opportunity came up at Nebraska with Scott Frost? He had to take it.”
Lacrosse will always be in Casey’s life. He may even pick up his lacrosse stick and throw with the Nebraska lacrosse club team if they’ll have him.
Casey doesn’t regret his decision to give up college lacrosse, though.
“If I gave up the opportunity to play Division I football over lacrosse, I think I’d have an issue with it,” Casey said. “I think I grew up liking football just a little more than lacrosse.”
That decision meant a lot of extra work for Casey. It also meant some tough decisions along the way, but his parents were thrilled to see it pay off.
“It makes you proud to know he’s done everything he needs to do to get that,” Terri said. “He wanted this dream and he went out and got it.”
It would have been easy for Casey to stick with lacrosse. He could have opted to play for Syracuse, but he would have never found his second home at Avon Old Farms.
He also would have had to give up the sport he loves most and the chance to play Division I football. That never was an option.
Lacrosse may have been in Casey’s blood. But, football?
“There’s just something about football that sticks in my heart,” Casey said.