LINCOLN — Casey Rogers knows what he wants his future to look like. He sees it every day in his roommate.
In some ways, Rogers and Darrion Daniels aren’t so different — the Nebraska defensive linemen are only a year apart in age. But while Daniels is a 21-year-old graduate transfer from Oklahoma State at the end of his college career, Rogers is a redshirt freshman who played a season of football at a postgraduate prep school in Connecticut to boost his recruiting stock.
So, yeah, Rogers does a lot of listening at home these days. To advice about football and life. To Daniels’ booming voice while he sings in the shower — he’s a good singer.
“It’s been the coolest half year of my life so far,” Rogers said. “It’s really cool being in a house with him and learning what he has to do.”
There’s an urgency, too, because Rogers knows he’s part of the next group up.
Nebraska’s regime-change class of 2018 certainly has already celebrated a few impact players such as Adrian Martinez, Maurice Washington and Barret Pickering. Guys who are household names in Nebraska.
But another portion of the class — known as the “Black Sweatshirt Posse” by coach Scott Frost because of what they wore while watching practices last year — was beset with injuries. Rogers and running back Miles Jones had shoulder surgeries. Linebacker Will Honas and D-lineman Tate Wildeman rehabbed knee injuries. Converted tight end Cameron Jurgens broke a foot.
They often sat against a wall together in the Hawks Center observing workouts. Waiting for their turn.
“We’re all just really hungry now,” Rogers said. “That put a big chip on our shoulders that we still haven’t proved what we can do yet. I think this is a big year for that. As soon as we get our opportunity, we’re not going to waste it. We’re going to go out and show that, ‘Hey, we can do this, too.’ You just haven’t seen it yet.”
Sign up for Big Red Today news alerts
Get a daily Husker news roundup, recruiting updates and breaking news in your inbox.
While Rogers felt “helpless” watching Nebraska road games on TV and sitting out practices in 2018, it helped to have others around going through the same recovery process.
The son of a college lacrosse coach tried to take last season in stride. He had seen athletes misunderstand or misuse their redshirt years because they didn’t know their roles. So what could an undersized young lineman who was unfamiliar with the defensive scheme do? It started with being positive for his teammates and reshaping his own body.
Rogers returned to full health by spring workouts and has built a rapport with new defensive line coach Tony Tuioti, who had previously recruited him at Cal. The 6-foot-4 lineman has also added 50 pounds of muscle from when he arrived a year ago at 249.
“I feel like a completely different person,” Rogers said. “When you’re sitting at this heavy, you’re not moved easily. It’s nice you can get your hands on people and really put force back.”
Coaches are noticing. Defensive coordinator Erik Chinander said Rogers will at least provide depth and has been strong in NU’s base schemes. Tuioti named Rogers along with Wildeman and true freshman Ty Robinson among younger players pushing to get into the Huskers’ strong D-line rotation. He’s working mainly at right end behind Ben Stille and Khalil Davis.
Giving young linemen the chance to develop is “what it’s supposed to look like,” Chinander said, while adding that coaches always recruit with the hope a player earns an early opportunity. That should come this year on offense for 2018 centers Jurgens and Will Farniok and on defense for Rogers and Wildeman. Nebraska also has eight scholarship true freshman linemen in the mix on offense or defense, and few if any are likely to be pressed into duty out of necessity. Former touted recruits Robinson (6-6, 315) and offensive tackle Bryce Benhart (6-9, 305) are among the most likely to play this year.
But regardless of how often the young bigs are on the field now, Rogers said, they’re coming soon. Especially on defense, where five scholarship contributors depart after this season.
“All of us know in the back of our mind that, hey, we’re up next,” Rogers said. “... We all know that we have to compete just as hard as (the veterans) are because next year, when our time is up and we’re on those first two lines, we gotta produce and do the same stuff they’re doing.”