Clemson the perfect fit

CLEMSON – For Korie Rogers, it was all about fit.

The standout linebacker from Buford, Ga., had more than his share of offers. Georgia. Tennessee. Florida. Penn State. North Carolina.

Rogers had the linebacking skills that make college defensive coordinators and linebackers drool. He could have drawn out his recruitment, had he wished – taken his visits, soaked up attention and adulation.

Instead, he committed to Clemson in late May, shutting down his recruitment.

"It's just Clemson being a great fit for me," he said at the time. "All around. The football. The small town. I just feel like it was the place for me to be. It's where I fit in the most."

Rogers also fits in as one of the gems of Clemson's standout Class of 2014. The Buford product is considered a four-star prospect by Scout.com, and rated by Scout as the nation's No.10 middle linebacker prospect.

He could fit in at middle linebacker or weakside linebacker and potentially avoid a redshirt, contributing as a true freshman.

"Korie Rogers could have gone anywhere," Clemson coach Dabo Swinney said. "He is a football player. He is fast, explosive, he's got great instincts for the position and he played different spots both inside and outside."

To Rogers, Buford and Clemson had a lot of similarities. Buford is a traditional power in Georgia, winning three Georgia Class AAA state titles in his high school career. Like Clemson, it is a close-knit program, and Rogers had plenty of success there.

He was Georgia's AAA Defensive Player of the Year as a senior, and Buford went 29-1 combined over his last two seasons, winning state titles both seasons. He was also selected as a U.S. Army All-American, although a foot injury prevented him from playing.

As a junior, he piled up 91 tackles, 16.5 tackles for loss, 6.5 sacks and four interceptions. He was heavily recruited, but after visiting Clemson unofficially with his family, Rogers was sold.

In mid-May – about two weeks before he announced – he knew Clemson was the place.

"Talking with my family, I felt like Clemson was the best fit for me," he told Scout.com. "The best place to be, just like Buford. I love Buford, and hopefully I'll love Clemson the same way." Style of play under defensive coordinator Brent Venables – known for his development of linebackers – was a factor, but being comfortable in Clemson apparently trumped all.

"I fit in better there," Rogers said. "It's a small town and it's hard to find trouble. That's another thing my family was looking for. I'm trying to stay out of trouble, stay low-key."

If Rogers found Clemson to be a perfect landing spot, it's hard not to see why the Tigers found him a perfect candidate for their improving linebacker corps.

Venables loves aggressive, physical players who love to hit, and Rogers fits the bill. He is always around the ball and takes smart angles, making few mistakes defensively. While sideline-to-sideline play isn't his strongest forte, Rogers is a "downhill" linebacker, playing north-to-south and displaying his skills as an aggressive, efficient tackler and big hitter.

Coming from a strong football program like Buford could give Rogers an edge on early playing time.

The graduation of standout Spencer Shuey leaves an opening at "Will" linebacker, although former five-star signee Tony Steward, junior Kellen Jones and sophomore Ben Boulware could also fit in. He could also slot behind star senior middle linebacker Stephone Anthony and learn the trade in more limited doses.

"He has great size (6-foot-2, 220 pounds) and great growth potential," Swinney said. "He loves to play and loves to get ready to play. He's coming from Buford, one of the best football programs around. He did a fantastic job at that school. He's a winner who knows how to work. It's hard to go find a better guy than Korie Rogers." Rogers says he could fit in as an inside linebacker (if Venables is running a 3-4 defense) or an outside linebacker (if Venables uses a 4-3 system), a nod to his overall versatility.

He fits the model that Clemson wants for its players – a quieter person who embraces the small-town atmosphere but is also capable of being part of a team mentality and doing big things between the lines.

"They're getting someone that's going to give his all every Saturday," Rogers said. "I want to try my best. I'm going to try and stay out of trouble and my grades are going to be good."

Before committing to Clemson, Rogers said he didn't tell anyone but running backs coach Tony Elliott, who served as his main recruiter. Rogers and his family went to Memorial Stadium's WestZone and met with Swinney, Elliott and other Clemson coaches.

"I told coach Swinney that I wanted to commit to Clemson, and he jumped up and gave me a hug," Rogers said. "I said I was ‘All In' with the Clemson Tigers."

For Rogers, the ‘fit' with Clemson was more than just football. It was the whole package – on and off the field, a common sentiment for players who choose Swinney's program and a philosophy that Swinney loves to use in recruiting.

"Clemson reminds me a lot of Buford," he said. "They have great coaches who are not only going to make you a great player, they're going to make you a great person inside and have you ready when you graduate."

Equally important was the relationship with the coaching staff and Memorial Stadium itself.

"The atmosphere, it's unbelievable in Death Valley," Rogers said. "I had a good relationship with coach Elliott and it felt right. Plus, coach Swinney is a great guy who has his priorities straight. It's family and then team. He treats it like that, and you see it every day."

Swinney and Scott love to talk about how they want the right fit for Clemson – which works both ways. Sometimes, talented players are passed up because the Tigers' staff knows they won't be the right fit for Clemson's close-knit atmosphere.

In Korie Rogers, it sounds as if the Tigers found a perfect fit both on and off the field – something that should pay dividends over the next four years.

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