Dooley on Tyler Bray: "He's playing good football"
Photo by Michael Patrick, copyright © 2011 // Buy this photo
A short plane ride away from Orlando, Fla., for the Under Armour All-America game, Ja'Wuan James had just settled into his seat when he spotted Da'Rick Rogers.
The Tennessee right tackle, a Suwanee, Ga., native, was nearly two months removed from committing to the Vols. Rogers, a Calhoun, Ga., product and one of the nation's top-ranked wide receivers, was going into his sixth month as a Georgia commitment.
Well aware of this, James tried recruiting Rogers to UT anyway. He didn't get very far.
"I was like, 'Man, you need to come on and come to Tennessee,' " James recalled. "He was like, 'No, I'd never come.' "
The words "never" and "committed" go hand in hand when it pertains to college football recruiting — as in, it's never over, even when a prospect says he is committed to a particular school.
The Bulldogs learned that all too well with Rogers. The Vols, of course, have been the top benefactors from the abrupt change of heart that provided one of the biggest 2010 National Signing Day surprises.
After barely seeing the field in last year's 41-14 loss at Georgia, Rogers will have his first true crack at the Bulldogs on Saturday (TV: ESPN2, 7 p.m.) at Neyland Stadium.
"It's really what I've been waiting for ever since we lost the game," he said. "As soon as the clock went dead, I've been waiting to get at them next year.
"Time is here. We're going to work hard."
Rogers wasn't in the mood for personal reflection after Tuesday's practice. His answers to a flurry of questions regarding the recruiting battle between the two schools were uncharacteristically concise.
There were no hard feelings and no words that could be skewed as trash talk. He simply reiterated what he said after his signing-day press conference — the second one.
Da'Rick Rogers in Buffalo game
"Just being a guy that's going to start to build a new face of a program," Rogers said Tuesday. "I wanted to be a part of that. I love it here. It's been good for me."
It certainly has, especially in 2011.
Now UT's top receiving threat after Justin Hunter went down with a torn ACL, Rogers leads the SEC with six receiving touchdowns and is second in both receptions (27) and yards (442). He's Tyler Bray's new favorite target in an offense that's averaged 336.5 yards through the air in its first four games.
Meanwhile at Georgia, the Bulldogs have an All-SEC quarterback in Aaron Murray, but seem to lack a top receiving threat of Rogers' caliber now that A.J. Green is gone.
"I met him a couple times on visits, but not best friends sort of thing," Murray told reporters after Georgia's practice Tuesday. "It definitely would've been great if he had been here, he's a tremendous receiver. But he's doing great at Tennessee."
At his weekly press conference, Georgia coach Mark Richt said he wasn't surprised when Rogers called him shortly before signing day to officially decommit because "we were pretty sure that he was going to do that."
"We wanted him," Richt said. "We recruited him, we thought we had him for a while, then it changed. It happens in recruiting. It doesn't happen a lot with us historically.
"But there were some things that made him feel like Tennessee was the best place for him, so that's where he is and now we have to defend him."
It wasn't until Rogers returned from Orlando in early January 2010 when his previously subdued recruitment turned chaotic.
According to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, then-UT coach Lane Kiffin and recruiting coordinator Ed Orgeron visited with Rogers and his best friend, Calhoun High quarterback Nash Nance, who was committed to Vanderbilt and didn't hold a scholarship offer from UT at the time, on Jan. 5, 2010. It was at that point when Kiffin and Orgeron — who, according to the newspaper, "bypassed the accepted protocol of informing Calhoun coach Hal Lamb they were there" — swayed Nance and Rogers to visit UT near the end of January.
Soon thereafter, Kiffin and Orgeron left for jobs at Southern California and Derek Dooley took over the program. Dooley had a little more than two weeks to shore up a recruiting class that was in shambles.
Even with a number of the team's actual commitments wavering, Dooley made a trip to Calhoun to visit with two players committed to other schools.
"That really opened our eyes," Nance said. "It was really kind of a business meeting more than it was as far as football. We understood each other as far as the coaching staff and players and we really liked what they were going to do here and we wanted to be a part of it for sure."
Both players visited UT the weekend they originally promised. James, who was already enrolled, served as Rogers' player host.
"It just clicked like that and he said he was coming," James said. "He said he loved it."
Rogers didn't commit that weekend, but the momentum was definitely in UT's favor. Nance announced his commitment Jan. 27 and promptly began his final push to bring his best friend with him.
"I told him I was going to Tennessee and I wanted him to come with me," Nance said. "We could do the things like we did in high school together in college. That was the plan and we're still sticking to it."
Though Nance remains bogged down on the depth chart, how he helped get Rogers to UT worked. The aftermath, though, was nasty.
Nance said both he and Rogers shut down all of their social media accounts during the final month leading up to signing day and didn't reopen them until a few months later.
"We made our own decisions based on ourselves and saw what the future held for us," Nance said.
Dooley said Tuesday he doesn't know what exactly sold Rogers on the Vols. He's just happy to have players on his roster like Rogers, Hunter and center James Stone, all of whom were highly touted prospects and committed to UT during Dooley's first recruiting blitz.
"It just shows you the importance of recruiting," Dooley said. "You never know who your impact players are going to be. You look back and some of them you don't get.
"Every now and then you get one."