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24th & Glory: An 11-part World-Herald series by Dirk Chatelain


FOOTBALL

Wayne State wide receiver Nate Rogers ready for record-setting season

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Injuries forced Wayne State to use four quarterbacks last season.

Nate Rogers caught at least one touchdown pass from every one of them.

The big-play threat caught touchdown passes in nine of Wayne’s 11 games last season, finishing with 44 catches for 577 yards and 12 touchdowns.

Rogers is back for his senior season, which begins at 6 p.m. Thursday when the Wildcats host No. 21 Winona State. Rogers, who also caught 12 touchdown passes as a sophomore, needs one TD reception to become the school’s career leader.

“He’s just a phenomenal athlete. He just does things you don’t see anywhere else,” Wayne coach Dan McLaughlin said. “Just a really special kid to watch play with his ball skills and overall athleticism.”

Rogers was all-state in football and basketball at South Sioux City. He still holds the NSAA Class B record for receiving yards in a game with 311, set in 2012.

McLaughlin said in addition to Rogers’ 6-foot-5, 205-pound frame, he has great hands and a great vertical jump.

“He can get his body in really strange positions and still catch the ball,” McLaughlin said. “He was double-teamed in almost every game last year, but he’s just a tough cover. If it’s in the vicinity, he’ll catch it. And he can run, too.”

Rogers caught touchdown passes from Aaron Bleil in the final two games last season. Bleil, who was Wayne’s third-string quarterback last season, will start this year. Bleil completed 46.2 percent of his passes for 674 yards last year.

“They worked together over the summer,” McLaughlin said of Rogers and Bleil. “They seem to have developed a good chemistry.”

With three starters back on offense, Rogers will be a focal point for defenses. That starts with Winona State, which featured one of the top units in Division II last season, when it went 10-2. Winona was sixth in scoring defense (14.6 points per game) and intercepted 24 passes.

McLaughlin graduated 21 seniors from last year’s 6-5 squad, but is optimistic about this season.

“I really like our team, we’re just really young,” he said.

Thursday's other midlands games

Missouri Southern at UNK, 7 p.m.: Coming off a 3-8 season, UNK returns its entire starting offensive line but will count on new skill-position players. Alex McGinnis takes over as starting QB while running back Luke Quinn, who had nearly 1,000 all-purpose yards in 2016, is back after missing last year with an injury. The Lopers beat the Lions 16-6 last season, but Southern has new offensive and defensive coordinators.

Missouri Western at Northwest Missouri State, 7 p.m.: Elkhorn South graduate Braden Wright, a redshirt freshman, edged sophomore Jadyn Kowalski, a Bellevue West grad, to for the starting QB job for the fifth-ranked Bearcats. Northwest Missouri led Division II in scoring defense (9.3 points per game) and total defense (212.8 yards) last season. Western went 4-7 a year ago, losing its last five.

Gene covers a variety of sports beats for The World-Herald. Follow him on Twitter @geneOWH. Phone: 402-444-1038.

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