The Rogers family waited their whole life for this football season. Painfully, the wait will continue.
It was supposed to be the season in which the Nashville family realized a lifelong dream — watching the two sons, Austin and Zach Rogers, play football on the same team for the first time.
Playing for Tennessee? Well, that was a Neyland Stadium-sized bonus for the brothers from David Lipscomb High School.
But when Austin Rogers suffered a torn anterior cruciate ligament in mid-July, his senior season was over before it began. Younger brother Zach Rogers had just enrolled at UT.
The two practiced together for only a week.
“It is disappointing,” Austin Rogers said. “That was kind of the hope of Zach coming up here.”
Said Zach Rogers, “It’s definitely tough. I was looking forward to this more than anything.”
Alas, the only way the brothers will play together is if the NCAA awards Austin Rogers a sixth year of eligibility. UT is in the process of applying for the extra year but no one expects a ruling until late in the season.
Austin Rogers seems to be a good candidate. He missed much of his sophomore season due to a shoulder injury and mononucleosis and received a medical redshirt. That means he will have missed two seasons due to injury, usually a prerequisite for a sixth year.
The NCAA, however, is tough to predict, especially when regarding an extra year of eligibility.
Zach Rogers thinks the decision should be easier than a chip-shot field goal.
“He loves this university,” Zach Rogers said of his brother. “He loves playing for this team. He’s worked hard every single year he’s been here.
“He’s been a big contributor to this team as a leader, on and off the field. I just hope they will consider that and give him a sixth year.”
Said Austin Rogers, “It would mean a lot because I want to play with Zach. And I want another shot to go out there and play for the University of Tennessee.
“It’s hard not to have a senior year.”
Without the extra year, Austin’s last season will be all about trying to stay upbeat.
“I’m doing all right,” Austin Rogers said, “just rehabbing everyday, watching practice, just trying to keep myself occupied.
“It’s really tough but I don’t want to be selfish. I’m trying to go out there and help the receivers when I can.”
Austin Rogers has his eye on one receiver in particular, who has occasionally worn his No. 21 jersey on the practice field.
On Monday, Zach Rogers caught a short pass, made two defenders miss and sprinted up the sideline for a long gain. Just a few series later, he caught a 45-yard bomb.
“I was excited to see that,” Austin Rogers said.
Zach Rogers seemed optimistic before he even made those plays on Monday.
“I’m coming around,” he said Sunday. “I had a slow start this camp. I started to figure things out … I’m going to be ready to go this week and show the coaches what I can do and help this team in any way.”
Oddly enough, Zach Rogers wouldn’t have the same opportunity had it not been for the injuries UT has suffered at receiver. Alongside his brother in the training room are Denarius Moore and Gerald Jones.
Moore hasn’t practiced because of a broken bone in his foot. Jones has missed snaps because of a healing wrist that required off-season surgery.
“It’s definitely bittersweet,” Zach Rogers said of the increased playing time he received when his brother was hurt. “I hate to see him go down. It was going to be real special this year getting to play with him. But he’s still there with us. He’s still part of the team.”
In many ways, Zach Rogers is the “other” freshman receiver. Unlike Marsalis Teague and Nu’Keese Richardson, Rogers wasn’t as highly touted nor was he in the midst of a heated recruiting battle with rival Florida.
“He has handled it well,” Austin Rogers said. “He talks to me on occasion after practice. He says its tough and everything but he’s picking up the offense really well.
“He’s trying to go out there and make plays and prove to the coaches he can make them on a consistent basis.”
Ever the optimist, Austin found a silver lining in the dark cloud that has settled over his senior season. After all, it’s far easier to watch his brother when he doesn’t have to ready himself for the upcoming season.
“I might even have a better perspective because I can watch every single rep he does,” Austin Rogers said. “I’ll go back and watch film and help him out as much as I can with the playbook and that stuff.”
That could pay off in 2010. The Rogers family dream hasn’t changed — just the timeline.
“I’m praying about it, Zach said. “I hope everything works out.”