Rogers making his mark early

Spring practice is a great chance for players to make early impressions on their coaches as preparations begin for a new season. For early enrollees like tight end Darwin Rogers, a member of Coach Graham's first class at Arizona State, it's a chance to get a head start on the rest of the recruits who will be arriving in the fall.

Without a returning starter at the tight end position this spring for the Sun Devils, Rogers is getting an opportunity to prove his worth and so far has made great use of the time.

The Sun Devils returned to the Kajikawa practice field Tuesday afternoon for the start of their second week of spring practice under Graham after having last week off for spring break. The coaching staff held very little back though, immediately turning up the intensity and putting the players back to the grind.

"It went good," said Rogers of the practice "You know, we're just coming back from spring break so I was trying to relax a little, relax and get my body back. But you know, out here it was back to business again. We've got to get back to getting used to it since we just had a week off."

Growing up in Chicago, Rogers played both quarterback and safety at Leo Catholic High School. He was ranked as the 144th best QB in the country his senior season and nearly committed to play at Illinois before eventually going the junior college route and ending up in the desert at Arizona Western Community College.

"Well, coming out of high school, I played quarterback and safety," he recalled. "I had a couple schools that were recruiting me to play safety, linebacker and quarterback, like Illinois and Kansas State. I was supposed to take a bridge program but my SAT score came back late and the program had already started, so I had to go to a community college down in Champagne for a semester.

"Some of the coaches there told me about Arizona Western Community College and I knew one of the coaches from Chicago and he knew I was an athlete so I decide to take me talents out there."

For a Midwest kid, Rogers admitted that relocating to Yuma was a bit more of a challenge than he originally anticipated, but one that he's ultimately glad he made.

"Yuma," he said with a grin. "Well, the school was like in the middle of the desert. It was kind of rough! We'd be in the dorms all day except to go to the cafeteria to eat. But I was doing football all the time so I was busy, 24/7, like I was in the marines or something. But yeah, it was definitely a bit rough in Yuma."

Despite that though, Rogers says Arizona grew on him and when he received an offer from Coach Graham and his staff, it was an easy choice for him to make to become a Sun Devil. Now happily living Tempe it hasn't taken him long to get settled in and prepared for the next level.

"Well, when I came up here I had a good GPA from junior college," he said. "I came here and my expectations are to get good grades. I've gotten a lot of help from the academic advisors so far, they've really helped me with all my classes. A lot of the other football players have shown me around, so I've gotten kind of used to being here fast. I'm finding my way around now."

Finding his way around on the football field hasn't been difficult for Rogers either since he arrived in Tempe. The 6'4" 240 pound playmaker has spent the first two weeks of Arizona State's spring practice working with the first team offense playing the "threeback" position, a hybrid version of the tight end designed to use the back in a variety of ways in Coach Graham high octane offense. Not only Will Rogers be utilized as an additional blocker along the line, but also as a deep threat and a big target in the middle of the field for the Sun Devils.

"With my big body frame, speed and athleticism, I can do all that," expressed Rogers. "Coming from junior college all we did was run the ball 24/7 but the coaches here knew I was an athlete and put me at the 'threeback' position in the backfield where I can run routes, catch deep passes and just be a tight end. So now I can get used to just being all around the field.

"It's kind of like a big hole in the field and you've got to be smart and very athletic to play this position but I've caught along quickly with this offense."

Rogers, who has three years of eligibility to play two seasons for the Sun Devils, admits that the pace of the Arizona State offense and Coach Graham practices caught him by surprise at first, but that all the team's conditioning work has helped him get up to speed with what the coaches expect of their players.

"The coaches have been great so far," he exclaimed. "I've just been coming in and doing the certain little things they're asking us to do. It's just like, you've got to get really in shape to get used to this offense, with the no huddle. I'm used to playing in an offense with huddles since I was a quarterback in high school and a tight end in junior college.

"But it's just like, you've got to come in and get well conditioned and get fast. Everything comes out you at such a fast pace, so that's one thing I've got to get right with the coaches; come in shape and execute more plays."

Fast pace is a constant theme when describing this Sun Devil offense under Todd Graham and by just watching a few practices it's easy to see that Rogers fits in. Already this spring he's made some really athletic catches and even hauled in a long scoring strike. His playmaking ability, combined with his 35 inch vertical and his 4.6 speed, Rogers is proving to be a valuable asset in the Sun Devil offense.

So far this spring he has benefitted by the absence of returning starter Chris Coyle, who is out with an injury. The extra reps in practice have given Rogers a chance to shine, although he still says he hopes to get his teammate back soon so he can have someone else to learn from entering the fall.

"I told Chris when I got here we got to compete against each other but we both came in like we're going to help each other out," he said. "It doesn't matter whoever starts because the other is going to come in if someone's hurt or tired or whatever, so we've got to communicate with each other. Chris is more like a person who will go out there and work just as hard, but doesn't really care if he starts, he'll still come in and play his role, and that's what I like about Chris.

"We've both got to come out here, so I can't wait for him to get healthy so we can work hard," he added. "We've got to communicate well because we're teammates and we're trying to win and get to a Rose Bowl together."

While a Rose Bowl would be the ultimate goal, just seeing the re-emergence of the tight end position in the Sun Devil offense would be a welcomed beginning to a lot of fans of the maroon and gold. It wasn't that long ago that Arizona State was the unofficial "Tight End U" with the likes of Todd Heap and Zach Miller leading the way at the position.

While it may be too early to bestow such lofty expectations upon Rogers, he insists that he's ready to help get the tight end position back to where it used to be for ASU and make his presence known in Tempe.

"Of course," he exclaimed if he fills he can play up to the standards of some of the Arizona State greats. "I always try to think positive. I've got a positive mind set and I'm just coming out here and executing and being focused. I think I can come out and handle the high expectations and a big role in this offense. This offense is designed for big playmakers so I think I can come in and help the team out.

"That's what I came here for and they don't recruit (junior college players) for no reason, so I know I've got to come in and fill a big hole."


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