Final stretch for Trojans commit Rogers
Wideout taking advantage of last games at Carson High to prepare for USC experience
Carson High School senior wideout Darreus Rogers won't need to win the Heisman Trophy for his career at USC to be considered successful, but it's important nobody debates its worthiness.
Like all prospects, he'll need to sharpen his game at the next level, but getting exposed for lacking the requisite talent doesn't feel likely.
"I've always been a competitor all my life, so this is not going to be something new to me," Rogers said, during a phone interview, of holding his own with future teammates Robert Woods and Marqise Lee. "I'm used to it. That's pushed me even harder. That's just another motivation for me."
Then again, even the most "can't-miss" prospects sometimes can't make the necessary adjustments. Just ask USC, which rolled the dice and came up snake eyes on Dillon Baxter, a highly touted recruit recently dismissed from the team. Even before his attitude proved his undoing, Baxter hadn't matched the hype on the field.
Without the mental preparation on several counts, natural athleticism may not transition from high school to a major college program.
Thankfully, Rogers' head appears to be on straight, in part because he's got a voice in each ear keeping it level: those of Elijah Asante, the head football coach at Carson High School, south of Los Angeles, and Charlotte Polk, his mother.
Kids like Rogers have basked in the spotlight for quite some time. The longer spent in that glow, the harder it can be to convince that athlete the world doesn't revolve around him. Asante's disciplined program, which beats the drum of accountability, drives that point home in no uncertain terms.
Every Carson Colts player wears a coat and tie on game days. Missing a practice would mean missing a game, regardless of stature. Arriving literally one second late to practice would mean a session of burpees ... and, in the case of Rogers, captaincy stripped.
"He's not above any rules that we have," Asante said. "They have to always protect their team.
The lesson has taken. By Rogers' estimation, he hasn't been late to a practice since 10th grade ... or late to much of anything else, really.
"Now, I have to be on time," said Rogers, who also was recruited by Miami and received interest from Oregon. "If I'm late, it's like the world is about to end, and I don't want the world to end, so I make sure I'm on time."
As for the heightened atmosphere of USC, Asante preps his players by purposely introducing chaos. Cheerleaders and the school band will sometimes be at practices. Scouts or media attending practice are allowed full access to players, even in the middle of practice. Rogers may run a route, then immediately give an interview.
"We let them know that's a natural part of this," Asante said. "We don't protect them and keep them away from it. We expose them to the distractions."
"On Friday nights, there's a lot going on," Rogers said. "And he just doesn't want us to get unfocused."
In the meantime, USC athletic director Pat Haden -- who graduated magna cum laude while under center for the Trojans from 1972 to 1974 -- stresses the "student" in "student-athlete." Thus, Haden is like a kindred spirit with Rogers' mother. Charlotte Polk has long tabbed academics her main responsibility while guiding Darreus to this next phase in his football life. She meets with counselors once a month, and Rogers maintained a 3.0 grade-point average his junior year with Mom breathing down his neck.
"We had to work hard, but, as a parent, that's my job," Polk said during a phone interview. "I don't necessarily leave it up to the coach, because he's got other things to worry about."
Among the items on Asante's checklist isn't Rogers' swollen head. Keeping her son grounded, despite all the growing acclaim over the years, has been another mission for Polk. Granted, Darreus, whom she describes as a homebody, isn't naturally a Terrell Owens-Chad Ochocinco hybrid to begin with. Instead, he's content to let others do the talking for him.
"All day at school, everywhere I go, everyone brags for me, so it's like, hey, I don't need to brag, you know?" Rogers said. "All my friends, my teammates, they just tell people how good I am. The most I ever say is, 'Come watch me play on Friday night. You judge me.' That's it."
"100 percent," Polk said with a laugh when asked if this trait comes from an upbringing at her hands.
The work by Asante and Polk (and Rogers himself) may have been effective, but it's not guaranteed foolproof, either. While Mom and Coach agree Rogers is ready for the responsibilities of playing at a major program, adjustments will be inevitable, especially in the beginning.
"Like I told him, once you get to college, I've done my job," Polk said. "I'm always gonna be there in the back, but I helped you get to college. Now you have to be a man and make the best of it."
"Ain't nothing you can do right now that gets you fully prepared for that," he said. "The only thing that gets you prepared for that is being there."
As far as the receiver is concerned, that day can't arrive soon enough.
"Man, I'm ready to go," Rogers said. "Every time I go to a USC game, I wanna tell [Coach] Kiffin, 'Let me suit up for one play. Try to throw me the ball.'"