Will Power: Rogers has been more than typical freshman for Mississippi State football

Joel Coleman

It’s funny how life works out. Not too long ago, Will Rogers was a prospect at Brandon (Miss.) High School getting recruited by Mike Leach. Only then, Leach was at Washington State. Before Rogers even had a chance to become what he is now – a quarterback for Mississippi State – he was being courted to be a Cougar.

“They were my first offer coming out of high school,” Rogers recalled of Washington State’s interest.

Fast forward to the present and Leach indeed got his man. Of course he had to change jobs, and ends of the country, to get him by becoming the new head coach of the Bulldogs this past January.

“It’s pretty cool how (Leach and some from his staff) ended up here,” Rogers said. “I would have never expected it.”

Now, with the dawn of Rogers’ true freshman season just over a week away, he sits pegged (unofficially) as Mississippi State’s backup quarterback. No, it hasn’t been announced as such just yet, but graduate transfer K.J. Costello has all but locked up the starter’s job and the only other major player in the signal-caller showdown was sophomore Garrett Shrader, who the Bulldogs have moved to wide receiver. Sure sounds like Rogers has shown exactly why Leach had eyes on him so long ago.

‘Big deal’, some might say. ‘It’s just a backup quarterback.’ Well all indications are that one of the major reasons Rogers ascended so far, so fast – displacing the guy (Shrader) who many last fall saw as the face of the program moving forward – is because Rogers hasn’t been just your ordinary backup quarterback. In fact, he has been instrumental in helping the Bulldogs get Leach’s noted Air Raid offense off the ground.

“I am extremely comfortable in this offense,” Rogers said. “We did the same thing in high school. (It was) very similar – a lot of the same plays, things like that. It was just called different stuff.”

Rogers isn’t the first guy out of Brandon to quickly pick up the Leach Air Raid. You might recall Gardner Minshew – now a star at quarterback for the Jacksonville Jaguars – having a monster year for Leach as a transfer with the Cougars back in 2018. Minshew’s high school offensive coordinator? That’d be Wyatt Rogers – the father of Will (and Will’s high school offensive coordinator as well). And just like Minshew slid into the Air Raid like a hand into a perfectly-fitted glove, it appears Rogers is doing so as well. So much so that, even if he doesn’t play a lick in 2020, it’s not a stretch to say he’ll have been a key component in helping MSU learn the Leach offensive scheme.

Yes, Costello has long been the favorite to be State’s starter this season. Ever since the former Stanford quarterback announced he was coming to Starkville this past spring, it has seemed nearly a lock that he’ll get first crack at captaining the Bulldogs offense. But who has been the Robin to Costello’s Batman here in the early days of Leach? None other than Rogers. The two have developed a bond. They golf and hang out together off the field. They run things by each other on the field. And the two made a commitment over the summer to link up and make sure Mississippi State got the Air Raid down.

“I think we really molded our relationship when we kind of looked at each other here in June and July and were like, ‘Hey, we’ve got a month or month and a half. Let’s team up and teach this offense to the guys,’” Costello recalled. “We’re competing (against each other), but at the same time, it was on our shoulders. (Rogers) had ran a little bit of the system in high school. I had to absorb a totally new system and we were kind of leaning on each other’s shoulders to communicate effectively to everybody else what we were doing. Not a lot of people will probably mention that, but I think that’s going to pay dividends this year – how we were effectively able to know the whole offense.”

It didn’t take long for the Rogers/Costello tandem’s efforts to produce fruit.

“If you came out to the first three practices (this preseason), most of the guys knew everything they were doing and they had never been really coached up, because they didn’t have spring ball,” Costello said. “I give Will a lot of credit for that, and myself and all the other quarterbacks being able to communicate that to the rest of the team in the player-run practices for the month of June and July.”

Rogers has seemingly held his own in the performance department as well. Leach has praised Rogers’ poise and play in scrimmages and on the practice field.

"I’ve been real impressed with (Rogers' mindset),” Leach said. “You know, a freshman comes in, one thing is the reps and the plays, but one of the biggest hurdles sometimes those guys have is the confidence to feel like they belong there and where they go out there timid like a freshman. He hasn’t done that. He goes out there and competes like he should be there. I think that’s allowed him to compete even quicker."

Costello has seen the same as Leach – a bold, young player that doesn’t seemed fazed by playing on a Southeastern Conference stage.

“He reminds me a lot of myself,” Costello said of Rogers. “Not to pat myself on the back, (he’s like) me coming in as a freshman. He’s just really eager to play. Really eager to get reps. Not gun shy. He’s willing to fail, which a lot of times, freshmen are really timid at times.”

However Rogers, from all indications, is not at all your typical freshman. He’s smart. He’s talented. And don’t forget another trait vital for a quarterback – he’s apparently winning over his team.

“When we see Will Rogers on the other side of the ball, the feel is as if he’s QB-1,” Mississippi State senior defensive lineman Kobe Jones said. “It’s the demeanor he’s had since day one.”

All this and Rogers hasn’t even stood on the sidelines for a game that counts yet, much less played in one. But ask anyone and they’ll tell you that Rogers’ time is coming. It might not be this year as Costello appears poised to keep the starter’s seat warm, but a couple years after Leach first targeted Rogers to pilot the Air Raid, the youngster doesn’t seem long from taking over the controls.

“Will Rogers is an absolute dog,” Jones said. “Since day one, he has been preparing like he’s the starter. He’s going to give everything he has every day. The ceiling is extremely high for Will Rogers. I can’t wait.”

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