This was supposed to be Darreus Rogers’ breakout year.
Four years removed from dominating the high school ranks for a Carson (Calif.) program not known for producing a bunch of stars. Two years after a solid freshman season that featured two 60+ yard performances early in the year and a final tally of 22 catches for 257 yards. And a calendar passing since a four-touchdown season that featured the highest of highs, a Hail Mary touchdown grab against Oregon State, and the lowest of lows, not jumping on a swing pass in the Utah game that was ruled a lateral, scooped up and then to the house for a touchdown.
Rogers showed an uncanny ability to make the tough catches throughout the spring, summer and fall. During our fall practice reports’ series, Rogers was constantly in consideration for the top play of the day. Each time we saw him, he was making a leaping catch, a back shoulder catch or dragging his tiptoes as he snagged a ball near the sidelines.
This was finally it. What Rogers had been waiting four years was in front of him. He and Steven Mitchell Jr. recognized sophomore Juju Smith-Schuster’s talent, but both were trying to beat him out for the primary receiver target.
‘We’re always trying to take that role, Rogers said before the season. “JuJu had a great season last year, so he’s on the top, but we told him, ‘Me and Steve coming.’”
He understood that he had yet to do anything, but this was his opportunity to come up, blossom and put his name on the radar.
But things don’t often go the way they are supposed to during a football season. Rogers has been beset by injuries and instead of competing for the primary receiver role with Smith-Schuster, he currently has 1/6th of the more than 1,200 yards receiving that Smith-Schuster has produced.
Last Saturday, we finally saw a glimpse of the season Rogers was supposed to have. On second-and-13 from the 27-yard line, Cody Kessler saw he had a one-high safety and Rogers matched up one-on-one on the left sideline. He tossed the ball up and let Rogers go to work.
“All week coach had been talking about how they are going to try to man us, go one-on-one. When the ball’s in the air, go make your play and that’s my strength. That’s my type of game,” Rogers said. “When the ball is up in the air, I’m a go-getter. I’m going to come down with it. I came down with it.”
Rogers was finally back in the end zone.
“I looked at the ref to check if I was in. I was in. Just an amazing play. It happened so fast, but the whole time the ball was in the air, my mentality was just to come down with it. I looked it all the way in.”
Throughout the season, Rogers has been banged up, playing through a hamstring issue he suffered on the first play of the Arizona State game. He missed the rest of that game and two of the next three contests.
“He’s getting back healthy. Darreus is a warrior, man,” USC wide receivers coach Tee Martin said. “I don’t think he’s been healthy for about four weeks, but he won’t come out. He won’t stop. I commend that for a man to know that I’m not at my best, but I’m going to give you everything.
“He’s been contributing in so many different ways other than just catching a lot of balls. But to see him in the end zone the way he made that catch, going up. One of his strengths is being able to make those type plays and it was just great for him to be rewarded for all of his hard work.”
Rogers only has 20 catches for 197 yards this season, but he finished with a season-high five catches for a season-high 53 yards against the Ducks and is hoping to build on that performance going forward. That starts today in the Crosstown Showdown against UCLA.
“Big game, going against a great team,” Rogers said. “It’s a time for us to make a statement. If we want to make some noise, this is the time to do it.”
Having played on the same all-star team while growing up in Compton, Rogers is close with several of the Bruins’ defensive backs, including Randall Goforth, Jaleel Wadood and Ishmael Adams, and that makes this game even more important.
“Trash talking for sure. Before, during, after. But it’s all fun and jokes. We don’t take it personal,” Rogers said. “We are like brothers, but Saturday, they ain’t my brothers. This is for bragging rights. After the game, we hang out with each other so the game is going to determine who’s going to have the better weekend.”
And one dominant game in a rivalry game can quickly become the stuff of legend, a true breakout performance.