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This was before Name, Image & Likeness when college football coaches were a little more “creative” with scholarship offers, and, well, just offers.
Then-Washington State coach Mike Leach may have broken an NCAA rule with his offer to quarterback Will Rogers of Brandon High in Mississippi, during the 2019 season. Rogers, a three-star prospect in his senior year, had already committed to Mississippi State and coach Joe Moorhead.
But that didn’t stop Leach, who was in his eighth season at Washington State after already developing such quarterback stars as Kliff Kingsbury and Graham Harrell at Texas Tech and Gardner Minshew II at Washington State.
“He calls me, and he’s like, ‘Well if you want a cowbell that bad, I’ll just get you one,'” Rogers said last month at the Manning Passing Academy in Thibodaux, Louisiana. “That was the first time I talked to him. He had just called me out of the blue.”
Rogers’ only scholarship offers were from Mississippi State, Central Arkansas and Washington State. He signed with Mississippi State in the early period on Dec. 18, 2019. But just two weeks later, Mississippi State athletic director John Cohen fired Moorhead a few days after a 38-28 loss to Louisville in the Music City Bowl that dropped the Bulldogs to 6-7 in Moorhead’s second season.
SEC MEDIA DAYS PLAYERS ANNOUNCED
And a week later on Jan. 9, Cohen’s hiring of Leach from Washington State was announced at a salary of $5.5 million a year.
Rogers, an early enrollee for the class of 2020, was already on campus as he started classes as an early enrollee for the class of 2020 on Jan. 6.
“I went up to him and said, ‘Funny, how things work out, you know,” Rogers said. “I still joke about that with him now.”
Rogers has become one of Leach’s most prized quarterback pupils. He started six games and played in nine as a freshman in 2020, completing 239 of 346 passes for 1,976 yards and 11 touchdowns with seven interceptions.
And last year, Rogers exploded under Leach’s unique aerial attack as he hit 505 of 683 passes for 4,739 yards and 36 touchdowns with nine interceptions as the Bulldogs finished 7-6 overall and 4-4 in the SEC. It was their first winning season since 2017 when State went 9-4 and 4-4 under Dan Mullen.
Rogers led the Southeastern Conference in passing yards per game at 364.5 and finished third in the nation in passing yards. His 36 touchdowns were No. 7 in the nation and No. 3 in the league. Rogers and former LSU Heisman Trophy winner and national champion Joe Burrow (2019) are the only two quarterbacks in the nation over the last 22 years to throw for 4,700 yards and 35 TDs while completing at least 73 percent of their passes. Rogers was at 73.9 percent. Rogers and Burrow are also the only SEC quarterbacks to average more than 360 yards passing a game since 2005.
“Just being in coach’s offense has opened up my mind so much,” Rogers said. “Seeing how he attacks everything is really cool. He’ll say, ‘That right there is open.’ Or, ‘You don’t need to do this. You have someone open over here.’ I see the field entirely differently. So do our receivers. I think a lot of quarterbacks could learn a lot from him.”
Rogers was taken aback by Leach’s bluntness with the cowbell offer, but he likes the fact that he coaches the same way.
“A lot of coaches just kind of beat around the bush when they’re talking to you,” he said. “Coach is pretty straightforward about everything, whether it be recruiting or telling me, ‘That was just a sucky read.’ Or, ‘That was not a good throw.’ I love that. He just tells it like it is. I guess he’s a little bit different in that regard.”
And it’s working.
In just parts of two seasons as Leach’s quarterback, Rogers already has 6,715 career passing yards and is nearing State’s career leader. That is Dallas Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott, who threw for 9,376 yards from 2012-15.
“But I definitely have to take another step,” Rogers said. “Because there were games last year where I didn’t play well. There were definitely games that showed me I have to prepare more, become more consistent. I just have to do my job better. It’s as simple as that. If I can consistently play at a high level week in and week out, I think we’ll be all right.”
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NCAA: “Hmm.. Let’s see… Is it Alabama? Nope. We wouldn’t even mention it if it were Alabama. Texas? Same thing. Don’t mess with Texas. Miss. State? Death Penalty.”