PHILADELPHIA – The College World Series begins June 19.
Under any other circumstances that wouldn’t mean much to Eagles fans. Except for this year, the College World Series isn’t any other circumstance.
This year, there is a pitcher on the Vanderbilt team to keep an eye on. That would be Kumar Rocker, who is the son of the Eagles' first-year defensive line coach Tracy Rocker.
"I thought he was a very good football player, I wish he would have played for me, but I mean, he chose the right sport for him and I'm proud of him," said Tracy, who added that his son played defensive end, tight end, and quarterback at North Oconee High School in Bogart, Ga.
“Whatever was needed at that time. And, my thing is, he's more of a gym rat. I mean, he likes ball, I don't care what kind of ball it is, I had a ball junkie. And that's just due to - I don't know if it's, I mean, we're coming from a family who was always with me in coaching, so he's a ball junkie."
Maybe the Phillies will draft him. Kumar Rocker is that good, compiling a 13-3 record this season with a 2.46 ERA and 166 strikeouts in 106 innings for a Commodores team that opened the CWS with a 7-6 win in 12 innings on Saturday night.
Kumar, who had a 6-0 career record with a 0.63 ERA in the NCAA Tournament and in the 2019 Super Regionals against Duke threw a no-hitter with 19 strikeouts, gave up three runs in the first inning of Saturday night's game, in part due to defensive miscues.
He then retired 15 straight batters and racked up seven strikeouts, giving him 300 in his career.
Tracy and Kumar have plenty in common, so it’s most certainly a case of, 'Like Father, Like Son.'
Tracy Rocker, now 55, dominated at the college level, too, doing so as a defensive tackle at Auburn. In 1988, he won both the Lombardi Award and Outland Trophy, becoming the first SEC player to hit that exacta.
He was the SEC Player of the Year as a senior with 354 tackles, 21 sacks, and 48 tackles for loss, and in 2004 was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame.
Rocker was the 66th player taken overall in the 1989 draft, in the third round by the Washington Football Team, and was selected to the NFL’s all-rookie team but played just two years before his career ended following a one-year stint with the Orlando Thunder in the World League of American Football.
“I always heard of Tracy, just what he did in college,” said Eagles DT Javon Hargrave. “Everybody told me how legendary he was in college, so when you have a coach who’s really been through those trenches, especially playing defensive line, is a lot more help. Not saying it’s bad not to play (D-line) but it’s a lot more help because he can tell you some of the stuff he did and how he got through some of the things we have to get through as a player.”
Most of Rocker’s vast coaching experience has come in the college ranks, though he spent three years as the DL coach with the Titans from 2011-13.
"I think the shift is that in college you get kids at a lot younger age and there's a bit more developmental growth there, not just on the field but off the field,” said Rocker. “When you (come to) the NFL, we assume that they know everything because we gave them money.”
He was all set to return to Auburn as an assistant, but 13 days later, he changed his mind and accepted the Eagles' job offer.
"The decision is always tough because that's somewhere where I got a degree, had a great career there, lotta great people," he said about the abrupt change of course. "But, you know, this is one of the ultimate jobs out there at the highest level of football so it was a very easy decision to make."
Rocker understands that his job is to have conversations with his players to learn about them, to care about them, and to develop them.
“I feel like my job is to approach every day, try to improve, to help them improve their game so that they can be successful, and also, they want to be successful,” he said.
Rocker has arrived at a crossroads for the Eagles’ defensive line, trying to blend youth, such as draft picks Milton Williams and Marlon Tuitupolu, with veterans such as Fletcher Cox, Brandon Graham, and Hargrave.
"In this business, we are always looking for improvement from different players,” he said. “Each year we want more improvement from everyone. My job is one - to talk about toughness, competing, situational awareness, and knowing what we're doing in certain situations.”
With most of his experience coming at the college level, it will be up to Rocker to ensure the transition between young and old runs smoothly if he wants to make his mark as a coach in the pros.
Sort of like his son, who will also try to make his mark on the pro level when he's done at Vandy.
Ed Kracz is the publisher of SI.com’s Eagle Maven and co-host of the Eagles Unfiltered Podcast. Check out the latest Eagles news at www.SI.com/NFL/Eagles and please follow him on Twitter: @kracze.