On an alternate timeline, Casey Rogers is in his freshman season as a lacrosse player at Syracuse University. For the Orange, he would be playing for an assistant coach who also happens to be his father, Lelan Rogers.
But that’s not reality. This time last year, it may have seemed that was the route his life would take, but Casey Rogers determined he could not live without football. And on Tuesday, he took the next step in his journey, committing to Nebraska after a life-changing official visit last weekend.
“I have no regrets at all,” Rogers told Land of 10. “It’s a huge feeling of relief.”
From the moment Rogers stepped on Nebraska’s campus, he said, he knew Nebraska was the place for him to pursue his football career. His infatuation with the coaching staff made the decision easier. Rogers was highly impressed with Central Florida’s undefeated season and wanted to be a part of something special at Nebraska.
“Coach [Scott] Frost is a special coach,” Rogers said. “Especially when I shook his hand, I just knew that he was going to do great things. He’s going to bring Nebraska back to the top and his coaching staff as well.
“They’re guys I want to be coached by and they’re guys I want to win with. Those guys, they mean a lot to me, because I know how much my family likes them.”
Nebraska also made the 3-star defensive end feel wanted. Casey and his parents departed Nebraska Sunday afternoon. About 12 hours later, Frost, defensive coordinator Erik Chinander and defensive line coach Mike Dawson were at his Avon Farms (Conn.) Prep School to see him. That night, the trio was in Syracuse to visit his parents. The fact they wanted to follow-up with him and his parents showed willingness to do what a lot of coaches wouldn’t, in Rogers’ mind.
“It was a great feeling,” Rogers said of the coaches flying across the country to see him. “It’s hard to explain all of this, because it’s such a surreal feeling. It just shows how much they cared. Especially after seeing them the day before, they knew didn’t have to. They knew they just saw me.
“Already, they’ve welcomed me to the Nebraska family with open arms. I can’t tell you how excited I am. It’s such a good feeling.”
— Casey Rogers (@caseyrogers99) January 14, 2018
Lelan Rogers left just as impressed as his son by the visit. Syracuse is a perennial lacrosse powerhouse and he runs the program’s recruiting operations, so he’s been on the other side of the process hundreds of times. But everything about the visit, from breakfast with university president Hank Bounds (he sat at the the Rogers’ table), to the 30-minute presentation from Bill Moos, to meeting the coaching staff, stuck out to Lelan. He sensed the enthusiasm in every aspect of the visit.
“Being a coach, I know it affected me,” Lelan told Land of 10. “I know what I was looking for and I know what Casey was looking for.”
Lelan also noticed the camaraderie of the staff. He knows better than anyone that in the coaching world, spending hours on end with each other, it’s better when you’re working with your friends. The history of the program resonated with the elder Rogers.
“It was just the right fit. You get that right feeling,” Lelan said. “I told Casey, as I tell recruits, you’re gonna know. You’re just gonna get that right feeling when you get to campus. That’s what he got at Nebraska.”
Casey told the coaches he was committing that Monday morning in Connecticut. He said it was hard not to commit in Frost’s office during the official visit, but wanted to sleep on it.
“I wanted to get home,” Rogers said. “I wanted to soak everything up. I think that morning when I woke up, I just knew. I knew [Monday] was the day. I was excited to do it face-to-face with coach Frost and coach Dawson and coach Chinander. It was a very special day.
“I think I picked the perfect school for me … I’ve had a smile on my face all day.”
The opportunity to be a part of Nebraska’s revival enticed him all the more. Rogers said it’s a pleasure and privilege to be a member of Frost’s first recruiting class.
“I think Nebraska’s a sleeping giant, and I think coach Frost is going to pull the blanket right off that giant and wake him right up,” Rogers said. “I think Nebraska is going to be a special place in the next couple of years.”
From top lacrosse commit to prep school standout to Big Ten destiny
Rogers was once committed to one of the top lacrosse programs in the country. Not only did his father coach at Syracuse, but his sister was a standout on the women’s side. The Cortland, N.Y., native graduated high school with a single football scholarship offer, from Western Michigan.
“When I de-committed from Syracuse, obviously it was a hard decision, being from New York and having my dad there,” Rogers said.
He did it all in pursuit of a dream — playing college football. He needed to get his name out there, so he went the prep school route, winding up at Avon.
“It just shows I love football,” Rogers said. “I think I had a problem when I thought about how I wouldn’t be able to play football after high school. I couldn’t get over that … When I thought about it, I was like ‘You know what, I would be a lot more comfortable giving up lacrosse for the next four years.’ Because my dad’s a coach, and I know the lacrosse community will always be in my life. I know I couldn’t pass down the opportunity to play big-time Division I football. Obviously here I am now, committed to one of the best football programs in the nation.”
— Casey Rogers (@caseyrogers99) January 17, 2018
Rogers’ experience at Avon also provided him the opportunity for introspection.
“It impacted me [to be] the person I am today,” he said. “I think prep school has taught me so many things about myself that I wouldn’t have been able to know about myself if I didn’t go here.”
Avon was also good to him. A strong season on the field resulted in Rogers growing his offer list from one to 12, with schools such as Pittsburgh, Ole Miss, Rutgers and Virginia eventually extending offers. The Rogers’ began Casey’s football recruitment behind the eight-ball. He wasn’t ranked because he never attended any camps or workouts. He wasn’t on anyone’s radar.
“We just weren’t looking at football,” Lelan said.
“I think his heart really lied in the Big Ten,” Lelan added. “There was just something about the Big Ten.”
Perhaps it was natural. After all, Casey was born in Columbus, Ohio.
Like father, like son?
Lelan supported Casey’s decision to pursue football totally. Like his son, Lelan was a multi-sport athlete in both high school and college.
Lelan was a three-sport athlete at St. Lawrence University in upstate New York for a year, then wrestled and played lacrosse after transferring to Syracuse.
“Casey’s a really good lacrosse player,” Lelan said. “You don’t find kids his size that can run like he does and run downhill.”
It’s true. Take a look at Casey’s film. The 6-foot-5, 250-pound force of nature busts through an opposing offensive line just as easily he runs up the seam and hauls in a go-route, brushing off defenders for a touchdown, making it all look easy.
He credits that to playing a variety of sports growing up. Hockey and lacrosse gave him hand-eye coordination. He’s recently picked up wrestling, giving him another physical edge. (Lelan believes Casey would be a premiere wrestler if he started at a younger age.) Conditioning has developed from all three other sports.
Dawson and Casey went over where the staff sees him in the defense, as a down lineman in the 3-4. The goal is to add even more weight than he already has, Rogers said. His frame allows for it. Avon ran a modified version of the 3-4, but he operated out of the five-technique and he’ll have to adjust a little to the 3-technique. Rogers said he trusts the coaches to develop him into the player he wants to be and is confident they will.
Explaining those technical terms are evidence he’s a football player now. Deep down, though, he’ll always be a multi-sport athlete.
Just like his dad.
“He likes coaching [lacrosse], but he grew up playing three different sports too,” Rogers said. “He played all three when he was in college. He knows I love football. He also knows I love lacrosse. He also knows that I can’t give up that opportunity to go play Division I football.”
Casey said it was actually an easy decision when he looks back on it.
“It’s his life,” Lelan said. “He’s gotta do what he’s gotta do. I’m not offended he didn’t wrestle. I’m not offended that he’s playing football. I’m here to support whatever he does.”
An orange lacrosse ball
On the Sunday morning of the Rogers’ official visit, they pulled into the stadium with Chinander and Dawson of the coaching staff. From his seat in the car, Lelan saw a bright orange ball.
Sure enough, in the middle of a snowy, freezing weekend in Lincoln, lacrosse seemed to follow the Rogers’ clan. Lelan disembarked from the vehicle in the middle of the parking lot to make sure it was really there.
“In the middle of Nebraska, in front of their stadium, there’s no fields there that anyone would be playing catch, it’s certainly too cold to be outside,” Lelan said. “I said to those guys, ‘Come on, did someone plant this here?’ It was like a premonition.”
Lacrosse will always be a part of Casey Rogers. The sport apparently tried to follow him into Frost’s office when he had to resist committing on the spot.
No more orange balls for Casey Rogers, though. He’ll stick to the pigskin, at least for the next four years.