Coach Speak: Justin Rogers and Mason Wald

There is a sense of pride when you see your son emulate you. Kenny Rogers, Justin Rogers' father, was a running back at Mississippi State in the early 80s and is still involved with the game. Mr. Rogers shares with Big Red Report his thoughts about his son and Mason Wald's football talent and talks about how the two ended up at Nebraska.

This segment is generally with the head coach or coordinator of a player, but not this time. If it's any consolation, I reached Buddy Thompson the morning that Mason Wald was visiting Nebraska with Justin Rogers to get some information on him because there wasn't a lot that anyone knew about him.

Mr. Thompson didn't hesitate in giving me the highest compliment that a head coach could give. He said that Mason Wald was the best player that he has every coached. That's over 20+ years.

Getting another opinion about Justin and Mason was something that I wanted to do because Justin's father played college and professional football. Kenny Rogers is also still tied to the game.

"I don't say much about Justin," Mr. Rogers said. "People who know me will tell you that. I am just a father that wants his son to do well in the classroom and God blessed him with a lot of ability.

"If I had to break him down, this kid reminds me so much of a kid that I saw at the combine this year and his name is Chris Johnson. On Justin's second step, he's full-speed.

"He's a track guy. His second step is just a blessing, that's not something that you work on. He also has tremendous vision. His strengths are getting to the hole, getting outside and then picking the hole once he has the ball in his hands."

Rogers is a player that could play on either side of the football in Lincoln; either as a running back or in the defensive secondary. When that happens, Mr. Rogers says that there is a physical and a mental hurdle that Justin will need to be able to get over.

"Talking to Bo Pelini and Mike Ekeler, we have been talking for a while, listening to them speak and my personal opinion from a football standpoint and not as a father, he's going to have to gain weight which of course he will.

"He's going to have to get mentally stronger because playing against Hoover might be great, because they are supposedly the best team in Alabama. Now you are going to play against older men. At 17, you are playing against 18, 19, 20 and 21 year olds. The mentality has to change.

"That will all come with the weight lifting, the reps and the way that you are taught to learn the offense. I think that will come with time. It did for me."

If there was one thing that left Mr. Rogers dumbfounded this year it was that Mason Wald was only holding one offer and from Samford University at that. Mr. Rogers invited a couple of friends that know the game to a Vestavia Hills game to get their opinions on Wald.

"I have watched Mason Wald play for the last two years. When I found out that Samford University was the only school, the only school, that offered him a scholarship, I said to myself that Alabama and Auburn have got to be kidding me.

"Then what I did was I got Bobby Humphrey and Chris Goode that both played at Alabama came to a game with me. I just wanted them to watch him. Bobby had eight years in the league and Chris was in for 10 and when Chris looked at me at the end of the game he said ‘That kid is unbelievable'."

"I said from that point on, from the fifth game in the season, I don't care what I do, but I was going to help Mason Wald get into school. He is a DI ballplayer. I understand Samford is what it is, but Wald can line up wherever on the field and play with anybody."

What was left for Mr. Rogers was just something to get the ball rolling with a school. Since his son was traveling up to see Lincoln, he thought it was a perfect opportunity to get Nebraska to take a look. Only problem was, Nebraska hadn't seen him before.

"I called Bo Pelini. I told him that I knew that Justin was going up there for a visit, but I asked him if he trusted me and he said that he did. I told him that he had to take a look at Wald. Bo said that he was going to do what he's never done before and that was flying up Wald too without seeing his film.

"Wald was told that he could trip to Nebraska with Justin, but he had to bring his DVD. The coaches called me from the meeting room on speaker phone after watching the film on Wald.

"They called me up and said that if I could find more Mason Wald's and Justin Rogers' here in Alabama to please do and send them along. They said that they just offered Mason. That satisfied me. I know a ballplayer when I see one."

Wald's highlight film had Nebraska Internet sites buzzing for days. It hit the boards and immediately, Wald became one of the most coveted recruits by every Husker fan. While Wald can bring the wood, there are some things that need to be shored up in his game.

"The only thing that I think that Mason has to do is to work on his footwork and his footwork isn't that bad, but it needs to be better. He needs to increase his speed. From that point on, he's going to grow and he's going to be something really dangerous.

"He has no problem hitting anyone. He has no problem coming up in run-support. He has no problem covering tight ends or running backs out of the backfield. He's already as strong as a bull. On defense you just hit people and Mason isn't shy with that."

Kenny Rogers made his mark as a running back and as a kick returner in college. Rogers had a couple of years of professional football, but his career was cut short due to injury.

"I was at Mississippi State from 1981 to 1985. I was a running back and I also played kick returner. I was in the USFL with the Jacksonville Bulls and then I went to camp at Seattle and then I ended up in Miami. I only got a chance to play a couple of years to play because of injury."

Even when Mr. Rogers was done playing the game he wasn't done with the game. He does a little of everything at all the different levels. Most of all, he is there to help no matter who you are, where you came from or what your story is. His first breakthrough student gives him and his company immediate credibility.

"Since then, I have been helping kids get into school. I do a lot of things with everyone. I go to the combine when I have kids there and all of the coaches know me. Sometimes I help pro teams with their scout breakdown.

"It's kind of like the saying goes, ‘If you leave the game in good order you can always cross that bridge again'. I have always been able to cross that bridge again. A coach will call me and ask if I know something about a kid and I can call and get a kid a workout.

"My company is called Elite Football Preparation and I have been helping kids get into school the last 12 or 13 years. Corey Dillon was my first kid that I put into Garden City Junior College many years ago.

"Corey was up in Seattle and wasn't doing anything and I got his tape. I said that he could play in the NFL and I was told that he was in high school. I sent it to Garden City and he went for 2,000+ yards a year after sitting out.

"He went out to Snow JC after an argument with a guy at Garden City, 2,000+ yards more for Dillon. Then he went to Washington and set 15 NCAA records in his first year. Ran for 220 yards in the first quarter against California and they were #5 at stopping the run.

"Corey called me at the end of the year and said that he was going pro to take care of his mom. In the car with one if his friends who had some drugs, got pulled over and then fell to the second round in the draft. The rest is history."

More recently, Mr. Rogers has been involved with a very familiar name of a quarterback that was at Tennessee. By word of mouth, Mr. Rogers work carries with it credibility. His credibility leads to first and second chances for players depending on their own situation.

"I have helped Brent Schaeffer get his life back together. Funny you called me today, two kids just got kicked out of Tennessee and I called their parents. I have never seen them and never met them, but they know what I do for kids.

"I let them talk to Brent's parents and some other parents. I just got one into Appalachian State and the other is going to Alabama State. I am looking at my folder now and two just got kicked out at Iowa, one at Indiana, one at South Carolina and one at SMU. I will help all of them get back into school and I don't have to meet them."

"I have eight kids in school right now and they have never seen me and I have never seen them. I know who they are because I have seen tape and the coaches offer them scholarships to come to their school there.

"In the summertime, I hold camps for kids. I also work out pro athletes toward the end of the year. Donovan McNabb, Antwaan Randle El, Quincy Black, Tommie Harris, Nathan Vasher and some others come out there to work out with me at the end of the year. I don't ever charge the kids, but I charge the pros because they can afford it."

Father does say that there is something special about his son and his son's abilities. He hasn't tried to live through Justin and his football, but some of the things that Justin can do make dad extremely proud.

"I have two sons and the other wanted to play basketball instead of football. I always told them that they didn't have to play football because I did. I don't need to live through them. If I want to reminisce, I can put film in on me and eat popcorn.

"But, to see Justin doing what he is doing it has really blown me away. I only wish that I could do some things that Justin can do, but I wasn't too shabby myself. It amazes me. I am proud of him.

"He's so calm and relaxed and I have to get his motor going a little bit, but I know how to push those buttons. That isn't the same with Mason. Mason is always ready. Justin is ready to play, but you almost have to do something to him to turn into the Tasmanian Devil. Mason walks on the field as a Tasmanian Devil."

Mr. Rogers and Bo Pelini go back a few years. Kenny actually knew Bo from when he was in Lincoln as the defensive coordinator. Their paths crossed again at LSU when Justin was getting recruited. The fact Justin was recruited by Lincoln is a bit of a joke that was just followed up in a non-jokingly manner by Nebraska.

"I knew Bo from his previous stint with Nebraska. I really got to know him while he was at LSU because Justin was being recruited by LSU. I called Bo and I was just playing with him, relaying a message from another coach and I added that Justin was interested in Nebraska and wanted to know if he would recruit him.

"I was just kidding, but Bo called me back and said some words that I can't repeat. Basically he said ‘You're dog-gone right I will recruit your son!'. Bo didn't lie. He kept trying to get Justin to visit and Justin didn't want to visit Alabama because he was already at every home game and Auburn didn't want him because the coordinator wanted more defensive lineman.

"He didn't want to go to Clemson. He didn't want to go to West Virginia. He took his visit to Nebraska and he called me from up there saying that it was cold up there, but that he really liked Nebraska. I thought he was kidding. That is when I found out they offered Mason.

"Coach Pelini and Coach Ekeler called me and I told them that it was his decision. I wasn't going to tell him where to go. Justin told me that he wanted to go to Nebraska and I told him to call the coach and let them know. That just speaks to how Bo is and runs his program."

In the end, Mr. Rogers has taken a lot away from the game. There is definitely that sense of pride and self-worth that comes with helping people out and that is what Mr. Rogers takes away from his job and he has the credentials to prove that he does his job well.

"I just want people to know that if they have a kid, and I don't have to meet the parents or the kid, that I can help. I had a parent call me who spoke with Brent Schaeffer's parents and he sent me his son's tape and I couldn't believe it. I got on the phone with Jones JC and they wanted him.

"I don't have to meet you. What do I have to meet you for? You just got a scholarship over the phone. Just because your kid isn't getting offers it's because schools don't know about him. Look at Mason Wald. It was just that one school, but now he's going to Nebraska."


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