Friends senior Jesse Rogers, the NAIA’s leading rusher this season, is adept at buttering the bread of those who have helped him achieve that status.
Rogers’ recollection of his four-touchdown, 322-yard rushing effort in the Falcons’ 49-30 victory over Bethany last week – which earned him the NAIA’s national offensive player of the week honor – quickly morphed into rapid-fire praise for the offensive linemen, receivers and backs who shared the field with him.
“It was great. It was a great team effort,” said Rogers, who also landed the KCAC’s weekly offensive award. “We were running the ball really well, everything was clicking and we all had a hand in it.”
That’s how it’s been for Rogers and his teammates since they knocked off nationally ranked Sterling in late September. Rogers has averaged 204.2 rushing yards in the last six games heading into Friends’ home finale against Bethel on Saturday.
With two games remaining in his career, Rogers has run for 3,185 yards and 28 touchdowns. His performance against Bethany, which produced the most yardage by a Friends running back since Aaron Howell went for 326 yards against Southwestern in 2004, raised his season total to 1,361 yards in eight games. Friends (5-4, 4-3 KCAC) also has a forfeit victory over Texas College.
“It was only a matter of time with Jesse,” Friends coach Monty Lewis said. “He’s an attention-to-detail guy. In some of our early games, we were a little short-handed. But whether he’s running for 90 or 320 yards, he’s always holding himself accountable.”
Rogers, who led the Falcons in rushing as a sophomore and junior, has been a slow starter during his time at Friends. He was held to 48 yards against Doane (Neb.) and 88 against Saint Mary this season as the Falcons started 0-2. But after a 15-day wait between games because of the forfeit, Rogers turned things around with 241 yards and two touchdowns against Sterling.
“Jesse runs angry,” Lewis said of his 5-foot-10, 190-pound back. “He runs with a chip on his shoulder. He’s not trying to hurt anybody, but he is going to affect the game with his attitude as much as anything.”
Lewis sensed those intangibles when he recruited Rogers out of Maize South four years ago. Rogers and Lewis’ son, Josh, a junior linebacker, are among seven former Mavericks on Friends’ roster.
Rogers, in turn, was looking for a program with a family atmosphere. Coupled with Lewis’ track record of developing successful running backs, Rogers found his fit with Friends.
“It’s a great place to shine,” Rogers said. “I looked at some of the other backs they had and watched how they progressed. I felt like if you do everything correctly and buy in, you can be successful, as well.”
Playing behind workhorse Thomas Hankerson as a freshman, Rogers still made his mark with six touchdowns in 46 rushing attempts. He led the Falcons with 717 yards as a sophomore and 869 as a junior.
But the Falcons’ 3-8 record in 2015 left Rogers, a two-year captain, feeling the need to atone in his final season.
“It drove me quite a bit,” Rogers said. “That was Coach Lewis’ first losing season here and that’s going to be on his resume. He gave us all the opportunity to come here and play college football, so going into my senior season, we grinded really hard.”
Running behind a line led by another Maize South product, junior Mitch Butterfield, Rogers has flourished in a variety of sets. The Falcons run zone-read options out of the shotgun, off tackle with two tight ends and a full-house backfield, and also line Rogers up at tailback in the I-formation.
Against Bethany, Rogers kept the ball on a fake reverse, split two defenders near the line of scrimmage and used his breakaway speed to dash 75 yards for a touchdown. He also scored on runs of 65, 16 and 8 yards.
Friends’ final home test will be against Bethel (2-6, 2-5), which yielded a season-high 162 yards to Rogers a year ago. Before Rogers could answer whether he could produce an encore to top last week’s performance, Lewis interjected.
“It won’t be for a lack of effort,” he said. “We’ll definitely give him the ball.”
Rogers’ career rushing