By Nick Cole | The Tennessean
COOKEVILLE - The last time Da'Rick Rogers was on the field against Oregon, he caught no passes and ran the ball once for 21 yards.
Rogers will play against Oregon again on Saturday, but the circumstances will be much different from the 2010 game.
Rogers is three weeks removed from his suspension at Tennessee and transfer to Tennessee Tech. With no more than a basic understanding of the playbook, Rogers leads or is tied for the team lead in catches (eight), receiving yards (163) and receiving touchdowns (two).
"It's all been moving a little fast trying to get acclimated, you know, with school, moving in, learning a new playbook and game planning for a whole new set of teams," Rogers said. "It's been good, all the coaches have been welcoming, all the players and students of the school have welcomed me in."
Before his first game at Tech, Rogers revealed that failed drug tests led to his departure from UT. With Rogers' inclusion on Tech's team contingent upon conditions laid out in a private pact with coach Watson Brown, the tone in Cookeville is one of cautious optimism. Rogers has said and done all the right things in his first few weeks on campus.
"So far, he's been a great team player," Brown said. "He's not over there wanting the ball. He's cheering when he's not in the game. I think he's been a good addition for us.
"He's going to class. He's been acting very mature. ... I'm very pleased with him so far."
With little time and limited options, Rogers faced a tough decision when trying to find the right fit with a new school. He turned to Hal Lamb, his high school coach from Calhoun, Ga., for guidance.
"I think that's the role of a high school coach," Lamb said. "Any time one of your former players needs help, you help him any way you can."
Lamb said he received text messages from several schools interested in bringing Rogers in, but with his son, Tre, as the starting quarterback and former Calhoun running back Adam Urbano also on the roster, he thought Tennessee Tech was the best place for Rogers.
"I wanted to get him somewhere that he knew some guys," Lamb said. "I really didn't want him to go anywhere where he didn't know anybody."
Rogers was never a teammate at Calhoun with Lamb or Urbano, who are seniors at Tech. Rogers transferred to Calhoun before his junior year.
Still, Rogers said there is a level of comfort playing with guys from home.
Rogers also attributes his decision to feeling comfortable with the guidance he would receive from Brown.
"He's a good character guy," Rogers said. "That's one of the main reasons I came here to play for him."
With only 142 miles separating Cookeville and Calhoun, accessibility for family and friends was also a factor.
Lamb said having the SEC's leading receiver from 2011 on the field goes well beyond the numbers he puts on a stat sheet.
"He makes us better as a team because they are having to play two-on-one over there (on Rogers) all the time," he said. "That means we're playing 10-on-nine."
"That means so much to our running game," Brown added. "When you can't put that extra guy in the box because you have to put him over there on (Rogers), that opens up a lot of things for us."
The Golden Eagles (2-0) lead the Ohio Valley Conference in points per game (41.5) and total offense (513 yards).
Tech takes a big step up in competition with Saturday's game at No. 4 Oregon. Still, Rogers is hoping to have a better performance than his first game against the Ducks.
"Hopefully we can come out and run our offense and get them on their heels," Rogers said. "I'm going to work hard to make as many plays for the team as I can."
The addition of Rogers has created a buzz in Cookeville, with Tennessee fans taking the opportunity to get a look at the former Vol.
"It has got me excited," Cookeville resident Jeremy Jones said. "You've got a big name that I used to go to Knoxville to watch. Now that he's closer to home, I'll come see his talent here."
Jones wore a Vols hat to Tech's 42-14 win Thursday against North Greenville. He said it was the first Golden Eagles football game that he had been to in a "very long time."
Another Vols fan and Cookeville resident, Scott Smith, attended his first Tennessee Tech game on Thursday to catch a glimpse of Rogers.
Both said they were likely to continue to follow the Golden Eagles and support Rogers.
"I'm disappointed in his actions," Smith said.
"He let the team down. He needs to straighten up, but you can't hold that against him. Hopefully he grows from it and moves on."
"I still support him as a fan," Jones said.
"Everyone has their challenges."
Still a Vol at heart
Rogers says that although his official ties with the UT football team have been terminated, he is still connected with many of his former teammates.
"I still talk to Justin (Hunter), Tyler (Bray), Rajion (Neal) and all those guys," Rogers said. "They're like my family there."
Rogers said he tuned in to see the Vols in their season-opening win over North Carolina State and hopes to make a trip to Knoxville to watch a game.
"I think the offense looked good," Rogers said. "I know people didn't expect to see that spread offense, and I know they didn't expect Cordarrelle (Patterson) to do what he did. It will be a good year for them, I feel."
Rogers wishes he had been there in Atlanta.
"After you've been waiting ever since last year the first day you heard, 'Oh, we're opening up the season in the (Georgia) Dome, at my house, where I've lost two state championships,' you were dying for that game to come along. But then it had to end.
"I was just watching and supporting, wishing I was out there with those guys. But you know, everything happens for a reason, and I'm glad to be here with great guys."
Reach Nick Cole at firstname.lastname@example.org.