It’s rare that some kid would distract the eye of a 6-foot-3, 250-pound athlete.
Tracy Ford, founder of a namesake sports-training facility based in Bellevue, was in that predicament the spring of 2015. He was outside preparing former Washington defensive end Hau’oli Kikaha for the NFL combine when Ford spotted seventh-grade DJ Rogers playing flag football with friends at Sammamish High.
He rushed over to talk to Rogers, who proclaimed himself to be a basketball player.
“He had absolutely no idea how good he was,” said Ford of the raw talent in Rogers. “The way he moved at his size, it’s just different and you can’t coach it. I told him if he put in the work and developed he could be a special player.”
Rogers latched onto the game, becoming an integral part of Eastside Catholic’s offense as a 6-3, 230-pound tight end. And he expects to do the same on the next level as he announced his commitment to Cal via social media on Saturday.
A four-star prospect in the Class of 2020, Rogers will make it official Wednesday by inking his letter of intent as part of the NCAA early-signing period for football.
“My position’s coach, (former UW star and NFL QB Marques Tuiasosopo) is a cool guy and knows his stuff,” said Rogers of reasons why he chose Cal. “He’s going to develop me into a great player but also a good man. And it’s Cal, Berkeley. You can’t go wrong with those academics.
“I prefer going to a good academic school because I want to get my criminal law degree. So, I want to go to an institution that’s up there. This is the best fit for me academically and football-wise.”
Rogers tore the meniscus in his knee during Eastside’s senior-night game against Bishop Blanchet in October. At the time, he hadn’t made a verbal commitment nor made any official visits.
Crusaders coach Dominic Daste said Rogers was nervous colleges would hesitate recruiting him. He reassured Rogers, noting the player’s knowledge of the position and size can’t be stopped by injury, the first of his young career.
“I didn’t want to drown in the situation,” said Rogers, who finished his senior season catching 33 passes for 452 yards and scoring six touchdowns. The Crusaders went on to win the Class 3A football state championship. “Since I couldn’t play football anymore (this season), I just wanted to use my time to take visits.”
Rogers started with Cal, then Arizona State and decided he’d seen enough, dropping planned trips to Oregon and West Virginia from his list. On Wednesday, Rogers will sign alongside four-star teammates Gee Scott Jr. (Ohio State), Sam Adams II (Washington), and Ayden Hector (Stanford).
“It’s been fun watching us all grow since eighth grade playing on Tracy’s FSP team to now, our senior year in high school,” Rogers said. “It’s crazy. I remember we were all scrawny, chubby and big, trying to fit into these tight FSP uniforms. We were pretty good, but when I look back, I’m like, man, we were trash. We’ve really come a long way and put in the work.”
In some ways, Rogers came the furthest. Born in Kingston, Jamaica, he was estranged from his father and spent a short period without his mother when she married and moved to Bellevue. At age 7, Rogers and his younger brother reunited with their family.
Soccer and cricket rule in Jamaica. Those sports along with America’s love of baseball and basketball influenced Rogers as a youth. After meeting Ford, and a short stint playing defensive end, the intricacies of running routes and breaking down defenders to score appealed to Rogers the most.
“DJ is really bright,” Daste said. “He loves puzzles and figuring stuff out, trying to make sure he understands every aspect. He plays wide but could easily play any of our receiver positions because he knows them all. And he understands concepts. You can’t say that about everybody.”
For Eastside’s state-championship run, Rogers was glued to offensive coordinator Drew Miller’s side. In between plays, Rogers could be spotted talking over calls with the staff. It was one way to stay involved after suffering the injury.
Rogers had one catch for nine yards in Eastside’s 2018 Class 3A state championship-game win against O’Dea. He was selected to play in the Polynesian Bowl in January but likely won’t suit up.
“It’s going to be sad leaving” Rogers said of graduating. “But I’m also excited and happy for everybody. They’re going to go off and do their thing and we’re going to put on for the Pacific Northwest.”