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Will Rogers Hits the Portal

Will Rogers Hits the Portal

The 2023 season held great promise for Mississippi State record-breaking quarterback Will Rogers. He had a stellar performance in 2022, throwing for 3,974 yards. His career passing yardage places him at number two in the SEC with 12,315 yards. He was poised to pass the leader, Aaron Murray, but fell just 851 yards short. You see, the 2023 season was not a good one for Rogers, due to missing four games with an injured left shoulder. But some may say it was also due to a brand-new offense, sprung on the team following the death of head coach Mike Leach. The Pirate had been Rogers’ mentor and head coach since the three-star recruit joined the Bulldogs in 2020. Leach’s Air Raid offense was all Rogers knew for those three years. Following a lackluster fourth year, and an offense that didn’t work, Rogers hits the transfer portal come December 4th.

Growing Up a Rebel

Rogers grew up in the shadow of Oxford, MS, the home of Ole Miss. His family and he were big fans. His father is a graduate, who idolized Eli Manning and Bo Wallace. And his grandfather actually played baseball alongside Archie Manning as a Rebel. But Rogers’ style was not conducive to the Rebel offense and he became a Bulldog.

He was quickly an ambassador for State as maroon and white were clearly running through his veins over the last four years.

One of Rogers’ biggest disappointments came in this year’s Egg Bowl, his final game as a Dawg. He returned from injury as a starter, with a win against Southern Mississippi. However, the game he really cared about was to come against arch-enemy Ole Miss. There were moments of greatness in the game, and Rogers even scored State’s lone touchdown on the second rushing score of his career. But the Dawgs couldn’t hold off a Rebel offense and lost 17-7.

An emotional Rogers was thankful for being able to play for the state of Mississippi, and MSU. But, he was most thankful for the really important people. “I am thankful to have had the privilege of playing for coach Leach, a legend and a friend, and for all of the other coaches who believed in me and gave their all to this program,” Rogers wrote in a release. “My teammates are my brothers for life and over these past 4 years, we created great memories and great moments. We left it all out there.”

Woulda, Coulda, Shoulda

At the end of 2022, after Leach’s death, Rogers had the chance to transfer or go to the NFL. His draft stock was high enough that most thought he could have gone in one of the earlier rounds. In the transfer portal, he clearly would have been picked up by a major program. But he decided to forego the NFL, and the transfer portal, to come back and lead the Bulldogs again. This was a new offense, a departure from Air Raid to which he was so accustomed. Yet coaches, players, media, and fans were confident in Rogers, and the way he and offensive coordinator Kevin Barbay were working. The spring game came and went, but that confidence didn’t fade. Rogers was running this new pro-style offense, not Air Raid. He hadn’t been under center since junior high, he said in one presser.

It wasn’t until the Dawgs started the schedule, that holes started to appear. At times, Rogers and receivers weren’t on the same page, and the timing was off. On top of that, the defense was sporadic, regardless of the talent on that side of the ball. The one time that Rogers ran an effective offense, was against South Carolina. He passed 30 for 48 (62.5%) for 487 yards. The Rogers of old was back. But this was going to an Air Raid-type of scheme. They only ran 23 times. State lost the game, but only by a touchdown. There was hope, but that was to be short-lived. After the Egg Bowl, State ended with a 5-7 season.

Head coach Zach Arnett was intent on having a new and different offense, although he was admittedly defense-minded. If you’re buying a refrigerator factory and you want to build cars, typically you re-tool the factory. Arnett tried to bring in a pro-style offense but was tooled for Air Raid or passing. Rogers’ frustration clearly showed following the Egg Bowl.

Head Coach – Why Starkville?

Arnett was fired following the debacle in College Station as the Bulldogs lost to Texas A&M 51-10. Likewise, A&M fired their head coach, Jimbo Fisher, at the same time. It boggles the mind.

Some see the Aggie job as more desirable to Mississippi State. Rogers, through tears following the defeat on Thanksgiving, sees it differently. “The way college football is going, some people talk about it – how tough they are and how they want to be this, want to be that,” Rogers said. “Here at Mississippi State, we really live that out. We’re not the four and five stars of the world but go ask anybody who’s the most physical team they’ve played against. I guarantee we’re probably top three. Tough, gritty, hard-nosed program.” Actually, the true freshman heir-apparent quarterback is four-star recruit Chris Parson. But the sentiment is not lost on the Bulldog-faithful.

“If you want to work, this is a great place for you,” Rogers continued. “If you don’t want to work and you’d rather be flashy on social media and things like that, this probably isn’t the place for you.”

Changes in the Wind

Considering the coming hiring of Oklahoma offensive coordinator, Jeff Lebby, it is unclear which side of that topic Lebby goes. More will need to be discovered about the first-time head coach. It is also unclear if Rogers would want to stay at State, should there be a desire from either party. This is something that may play out over the coming days.

There are any number of schools that will benefit from a proven leader, packing over 12-thousand passing yards. Landing in the SEC, he has the chance to break into the number one SEC passer. Also, he is number four in career passing touchdowns with 94. This record too could fall. In other words, Rogers will be fine going forward. There are still things he can look back on, and that’s the brotherhood one builds. Jo’quavious “Woody” Marks was with Rogers from their first day. He posted a comment that probably sums up the way the Bulldogs feel about their quarterback. “Been through it all man,” Marks wrote. “First day on campus together, until now. Been an honor to play this game with you brother.”

 

Will Rogers Hits the Portal
Photo courtesy: Petre Thomas-USA TODAY Sports

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