Welcome to SEC Country’s daily Eye on the Tigers, a rundown of everything happening in LSU Tigers recruiting , with Sam Spiegelman. Today, we discuss Justin Rogers, Louisiana’s top-ranked quarterback prospect who is undergoing knee surgery on Monday. LSU and TCU are bracing to duke it out over the 4-star dual-threat quarterback until December, but his recent setback has left him weighing all of his available options.
Justin Rogers undergoing surgery on Monday
SHREVEPORT, La. — Surgery doesn’t faze Justin Rogers . It could have been worse. Much worse.
Rogers, Louisiana’s top-ranked quarterback in the Class of 2018, suffered a devastating knee injury on Friday, Sept. 1 as Parkway (La.) High School opened what should’ve been a march toward the Class 5A state championship game. One of the state’s most talent-laden squads is headlined by Rogers, the No. 2-ranked dual-threat quarterback prospect in the country.
The community’s hopes of hoisting a championship trophy took a tumble for the worst when Rogers fell to the turf that Friday night. The disclosure of the injury was even harder to swallow.
Rogers tore his ACL, an injury historically prevalent in the NFL ranks this preseason. Yes, that’s according to Rogers, who did intense homework on the injury and the procedure to repair it. The quarterback and his family made visits to doctors Tuesday through Thursday before scheduling surgery with Dr. Edward Anglin, Dr. Craig Springmeyer and Dr. Carlton Houtz for Monday morning.
In the nine days between Rogers’ injury and his scheduled orthopedic surgery, there have lots of questioning, crying and contemplating. As the procedure approached, however, Rogers fittingly came to terms with the reality of the situation. Maturity beyond his years doesn’t do the 17-year-old justice, but he realizes even that will be tested in the months to come.
“It’s been hard,” Rogers admitted in an exclusive interview with SEC Country. “When it happened, it was hard for me to believe because I’m human. We have selfish mindsets, so when you see people get hurt, you feel like you’re covered, you’re good.
“It was my time. Today was going to be my last time crying. Every morning, it hit me that it was my last time playing for Parkway. I woke up [Friday] to something I never imagined. I got on Twitter, on game day, and it hit me. I cried for a good hour. We put in so much hard work and I have a big brother role for my team. I lead by example, so it hurt me more to see them in pain than the pain of me getting hurt.
“I saw the emotion in my teammates’ eyes. Kids in the community came to the hospital to see me and they were crying because they think I’m a superhero. That hurt more than the actual injury. It showed me you can’t take nothing for granted.”
That’s Rogers being coy.
What he isn’t advertising is that surgery was ultimately the best-case scenario in the aftermath of the injury.
Rogers has faced a series of hurdles from birth through his time as a middle school football player, as well as eligibility issues during the early part of his career at Parkway High School. But he came within a poor angle of never playing football again.
When Rogers’ knee collapsed two Fridays ago, his shin bone rubbed up right against the artery in his leg. Fortunately, Dr. Anglin — who attends one Parkway game a year — chose the season opener this time around.
From the sidelines, Dr. Anglin rushed to Rogers’ aid to ensure that there was no damage to his artery. If there was, the 4-star quarterback would not be bracing for surgery; he would have had his right knee amputated.
“My orthopedic surgeon comes to one game a year and it just so happens that this was the one he was at,” Rogers explained. “He made sure it was stable and there was no artery damage, and that was a blessing.
“This is why I’m still pushing. I’ve had some thoughts. It was rough. My mom told me how blessed and how lucky we were. It opened my eyes. It could’ve been worse. I’m still here, alive, still living my life. It set me back a couple of months, maybe a year.”
A life full of hurdles yields its biggest test to date
Rogers’ torn ACL is the latest setback the 17-year-old blue-chip quarterback has faced. It’s far from the first.
Before Rogers was born, physicians uncovered defects when he came out of his mother’s womb. There was a cloud of doubt over whether he would make it out of the hospital that day. As a seventh-grader, his middle school football coach told him he couldn’t play running back. Rogers was a running back, in his eyes, and he would “never be a quarterback.” When he arrived at Parkway, he was ineligible to suit up as a freshman in 2014.
What’s another obstacle thrown in Rogers’ way? For him and his family, it’s nothing that they haven’t faced in the past.
“I’ve been through adversity before,” Rogers said. “I’m not supposed to be alive right now because of the birth defects when I was born. In middle school, they told me I’d never be a quarterback. When I was a freshman, the eligibility stuff, and my sophomore year I didn’t play. My mom told me, ‘You’ve always been a warrior,’ so this is another thing to add to the story.”
For an athlete of Rogers’ caliber, this is far and away the most severe injury he has ever had to address.
Rogers began playing football at age 4. He hurt his ankle in a basketball game a few years later, but his surgery on Monday will be the most intense procedure he’s ever undergone. There are nerves, sure, but as an offer from Harvard would prove, the All-America passer has done his homework.
Between suffering the injury last Friday and sitting in the press box with the Parkway offensive coaches the following week, Rogers has researched ACL tears and how professional football players have rebounded. He learned that there were 30 ACL tears in the NFL this preseason compared to the 20 or so that occurred in entire football seasons in previous years.
Rogers also caught up on the recovery process. Adrian Peterson is the most well-known example. His ninth-month time frame between tearing his ACL to returning to football to lead the NFL in rushing is the quintessential example of how diligence yields a quicker recovery period.
Rogers is aiming to not only match Peterson but outdo the future Hall of Fame running back.
“I’ve played football since I was 4 and the only injury I’ve had was a broken thumb,” he laughed. “You see stuff like Deondre Francois going down. Teddy Bridgewater went down. There have been 30 in the preseason so far who have torn their ACL. You see that everywhere, but you don’t incorporate it to yourself.
“AP is the poster boy for coming back from this and I plan on outdoing him. I can’t skip rehab days, but I can’t rush it at the same time. Once I’m 100 percent, I’ll be ready to go, but you take it one day at a time and listen to the doctors until then.”
Recovery time unknown
Despite a torn ACL, Rogers maintains his plans on graduating from Parkway early, signing his National Letter of Intent and enrolling ahead of time at whatever university he chooses. For now, that’s TCU.
There’s a chance that the 4-star quarterback can participate in the Horned Frogs’ spring practices, but he has zeroed in on a different time frame so that he doesn’t rush his recovery process. To Rogers, he’ll be ready when TCU is ready to name a starter behind center.
“It just depends on how I feel,” he said. “Everyone reacts differently to the surgery, to rehab. I’m going to fight and I’m going to push, and if I’m 100 percent and my testing is better than what I’m used to by the spring, I’ll compete. If not, I’ll play it smart and rehab through the summer. I can promise you, though, I’ll be ready for fall camp.”
Rogers’ surgery on Monday carries a bevy of unknowns. It’s unclear when he’ll play football next and when he’ll have full strength back in his right knee.
He’s comfortable with that uncertainty.
Based on all of the adversity that Rogers has been through, he’s confident he’ll eventually suit up for TCU or another Power 5 football team by next summer. That’s why his procedure on Monday isn’t about him.
As he sat in the hospital last weekend and received visits from children in the community leading into Parkway’s Friday night game at Independence Stadium in Shreveport, he realized that his road back to football is about more than just him. Rogers now embodies the strength of his city and will wear that badge over the next six to nine months, or however long it takes him to get back to full strength.
His mother, Veronica Baker, has been a source of strength his entire life but never more than in the past 10 days. As she put it to her son, the Bossier City, La., community is putting their faith in him now so that he can someday return the favor.
“Today was the first day that I said, ‘I can do this,'” an emotional Rogers said. “Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, this might’ve gotten me. I didn’t think I’d be able to bounce back and I’ve been emotional. I don’t think I can do it after the pain I’ve been in. But my mom told me that this injury could happen to a kid 10 years later and they’ll keep going, keep pushing because of me.
“As a freshman, when I lost my whole season, my community never turned their back on me. They stuck with me. After we didn’t get it done last year, I felt like I could repay them back this year. I let them down, but they reassured me that they care more about me as a person than a football player. They just want to see me smiling, so I’m doing my best to please them.”
Justin Rogers noticed the support from LSU
As Rogers arrived at the hospital on Sept. 1, both his mother and father were on the phone. College coaches from TCU, LSU and North Carolina were all on the line to check in on what the doctors were saying about Rogers’ knee.
TCU offensive coordinator Sonny Cumbie left a team meeting to call Baker. The same goes for LSU coach Ed Orgeron and tight ends coach Steve Ensminger, the Tigers’ North Louisiana area recruiter who has been Rogers’ primary recruiter for the past two-plus years.
While the subject was not ideal, Rogers — who committed to TCU on May 31 of last spring — got a sense of the men that were recruiting him to their schools. The 4-star quarterback brought up Orgeron and Ensminger on his own when he was asked about the support he has received immediately following the injury.
“Coach O and Coach E, they were on the phone with my parents when we hit the hospital,” Rogers recalled. “They’re great coaches, but this shows you that they care more about the person than the football player. I’ve built relationships with those guys, but I’m not committed to Coach O, and he left a meeting to get on the phone with my mom and dad to see if I was OK. Coach O and Coach E have texted me every day [since], communicating and telling me to keep my head up. I’m a fighter and they know that I’ll bounce back from it.”
As Rogers rightfully pointed out, he gave a verbal commitment to TCU over LSU in the spring. The Tigers have yet to bounce back from whiffing on the state’s top-ranked quarterback prospect and No. 2 overall prospect since.
LSU is still searching for a quarterback to add to its 2018 recruiting class and remains zeroed in on Rogers to fill that void. He knows that but has an even deeper appreciation for the staff in light of the recent events in his own life. While firm in his commitment, Rogers maintains that his recruitment is not shut down.
For Rogers, it’s safe to say the recent uptick in communication will play a role as he finalizes his plans over the next three months.
“It shows you the true colors of a great coaching staff,” he said. “It shows you not every coach is going to care about you on the football field and care about you outside of football. LSU has been a blessing in my life and blessing in other recruits’ lives. They definitely care about recruits outside of football.
“I never shut my recruiting process down because crazy stuff can happen. You can wake up one day and a whole coaching staff can be gone. They’ve always kept it open with me, and in that moment, being alert and caring about me will definitely play a part.”
The 6-foot-4, 210-pound dual-threat quarterback may have officially visited LSU over the weekend if he was not preparing to undergo surgery on Monday. His official visits are temporarily postponed because — as he put it — he doesn’t plan on crutching around college campuses.
LSU will have a chance to host Rogers and his parents for an official visit. So will TCU and North Carolina. He plans on taking all five of his officials to ensure he makes the right decision in December.
With Danny Etling wrapping up his final season in Baton Rouge and a spot on the depth chart opening up in the aftermath of Lindsey Scott Jr.’s transfer, Rogers sees opportunities on LSU’s roster, especially when he’s back at full strength. That, along with several other factors, will all come into play as he examines his choices later on this fall.
“I’m loyal to TCU, but as an athlete, you have to play the game smart and do what’s best for you at the end of the day,” Rogers explained. “There’s definitely opportunities there with Etling graduating and Lindsey leaving. There are definitely opportunities to compete with two guys, two young bucks like yourself. I can definitely compete for a starting job there, but at the same time, you can’t go in thinking you’re better than him because that’ll get you caught up, if you think like that. But if there’s an opportunity you can’t pass on, you still have to play it smart.”
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