Nick Rogers had already completed his first season at Georgia Tech. He was an inexperienced redshirt who was initially recruited as a running back and someday hoped to be the Yellowjackets' leading ball carrier.
"Running backs get all the glory," said Rogers, who was drafted by the Vikings in the sixth round, as the 177th pick overall. "I always liked being the running back. The spotlight's always on you."
As a Georgia Tech underclassman, someone turned off the spotlight's switch. Rogers didn't learn of the spotlight outage until someone brought him a copy of the Atlanta Journal Constitution newspaper during spring practice. In the Georgia Tech spring practice report was an item about Rogers.
Before he had ever seen the newspaper, Rogers had already heard mumblings and grumblings of a possible switch from offense to defense. But until he heard otherwise — from people who mattered, the coaching staff — Rogers maintained a running back's perspective.
"Somebody showed me the paper and I went, ‘Whoa,' " Rogers said. "I didn't really have any high hopes of playing running back any time soon, so it was like, whatever. I worked hard at running back, but I didn't think I'd get on the playing field any time soon. So playing defense was cool."
Rogers met with his coaches and made the move to the other side of the line of scrimmage. Running back by high school, linebacker by college. It was Rogers' versatility, adaptability, and mental flexibility that quickly became a trademark of his football career.
It wasn't the first switch he ever made.
First, Georgia Tech coach George O'Leary wanted Rogers at middle linebacker, where he spent most of his time on the weak side, while occasionally playing on the strong side. For the first time in his football career, which dated to Pop Warner days, Rogers was tackling rather than being tackled. Suddenly, he was the deliverer, not the receiver, of crushing blows. In a minute's notice, Rogers was learning how to administer pain rather than absorb it.
"In 1999, that was the first year I ever played defense," Rogers said. "It was like playing a totally different aspect of the game. On offense, you know what you're doing, so the defense is reacting to you. On defense, you have to react to what the offense does."
Just as Rogers was becoming acquainted with his linebacker responsibilities, the Georgia Tech staff opted to move him to the defensive line, where they hoped he would blossom into a pass-rushing specialist. The maturation period didn't take long. Rogers recorded 15 quarterback sacks as a pass-rushing defensive end his final two seasons at Georgia Tech.
As a junior, Rogers was named second-team All-Atlantic Coast Conference, after making 62 tackles and nine sacks; he had 13 tackles for losses. Rogers answered his solid junior season with almost an identical senior year. He recorded 64 tackles and six sacks; 12 tackles were for losses. Again, he was named second-team All-ACC.
Not a bad collegiate career for someone who was discovered because of his brother.
Rogers' older brother, Phillip, was being recruited by O'Leary. That's when the Georgia Tech coach became acquainted with younger brother, Nick. O'Leary loved the speed the younger Rogers possessed.
"You have a lot of guys that run a 4.5 (40-yard dash) and hit you at 4.9," O'Leary said on draft day. "You cannot win with those guys. (Rogers) hits you at the speed he runs at (about 4.6)."
Rogers was flattered when O'Leary came calling on the St. Piux (Ga.) High School senior. Georgia Tech was the only Division I program that showed recruiting interest in Rogers. "That was the funny thing," Rogers said. "Tech was the only Division I school that really wanted me. During my junior year in high school, a lot of colleges were interested in me. But I didn't do as well as they thought I should as a senior. A lot of teams wanted me to walk on, but at Tech, they offered me a scholarship."
Rogers thinks family ties played a role. "My brother came (to Georgia Tech) and he was the reason why O'Leary picked me up," he said. "My brother was athletic, and (O'Leary) figured the same about me."
Having Phillip at Georgia Tech, his brother at his side, was a priority to Nick. "It was kind of a comfort to have someone like my brother there," Nick said. "If I had any problems I could easily ask him about them. It was a comfort zone for me. Everyone needs that kind of comfort zone. You have to have somebody there that cares for you."
The support system was in place in college. It hasn't been long, but it appears that same type of support system awaits at Winter Park.
"O'Leary is there," Rogers said. "Coach (Brian) Baker used be the linebackers coach at Georgia Tech, too. So it was kind of a sigh of relief when the Vikings drafted me. Everybody does well where they're comfortable, and there'll be some kind of comfort zone around me (with the Vikings). Having people I know there is big."
But Rogers' support system is asking him to move once again. Not long after Minnesota plucked Rogers off the board on Day 2 of the NFL draft, the Vikings moved Rogers back to linebacker.
From a running back in high school, to a linebacker in college, then to defensive line as a junior and senior in college, back to linebacker as an NFL rookie. Whatever it takes, Rogers figures.
"I think that'll work out well," said Rogers, who is preliminarily scheduled to back up starting middle linebacker Henri Crockett, a free agent acquisition. "I'll be able to make plays on both sides of the field, unlike playing defensive end, where you're basically on one side of the field."
Or on the other side of the line of scrimmage, where he used to carry the ball. "Playing running back was always my dream," he said. "I didn't know what college or where I was going to play professionally, but running back was where it was at because you're always in the spotlight."
There was a time in Rogers' youth when playing defense wasn't even a consideration. "The position I never wanted to play was on the offensive or defensive line," he said. "But I guess I always played where I was needed."
Somewhere along the way — from St. Piux to Georgia Tech to Minnesota — his outlook has invariably changed. "I probably should be a defensive player," Rogers said. "I like contact. I'm aggressive, I guess. I should have been playing defense all my life."
The past doesn't matter anymore.
It's the destination, not the path that matters now. Although considering his background with O'Leary and Baker, Rogers' impressive past did help him land a spot on the Vikings' minicamp roster.
"He is a quality person from a quality family, and I think that is something to consider when you are picking down in the lower rounds," Baker said. "You want a person that has got something to them because obviously they are going to come in and they are going to be behind some people."
Which is exactly where Rogers is — behind Crockett. No big deal.
"It's going to be cool," Rogers said. "I'm just excited to get the opportunity to play. It's time to go to work." VU
FAVORITE CAR: 2002 Monte Carlo
FIRST CAR: 1992 Honda Accord
CURRENT VEHICLE: Eclipse
HOBBIES: Listening to music, spending time on the Internet
FAVORITE MOVIE: The Goonies
FAVORITE ACTOR: Denzell Washington
IF I WASN'T PLAYING FOOTBALL: I'd be running in track
HIGHLIGHT OF CAREER: When Georgia Tech beat Georgia in 1998
Getting To Know: LB Nick Rogers
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