Will Rodgers Jr. might have stayed closer to home in Michigan if his father had not re-connected with WSU linebackers coach Roy Manning, a Saginaw native.
After losing two defensive line recruits in the aftermath of former defensive line coach Joe Salave’a’s departure for Oregon, Washington State has restocked at that position.
Days after Dallas Deerfield (Mass.) Academy defensive end Dallas Hobbs committed to WSU, the Cougars earned a second verbal from a defensive lineman — Will Rodgers Jr., out of Arthur Hill (Saginaw, Mich.) High School and Valor Christian High School in Highlands Ranch, Colo.
Rodgers Jr., a 6-foot-5, 230-pound pass rushing specialist, played his first three years of football at Arthur Hill before transferring to Valor Christian for his senior season because he wanted to test himself against a higher level of talent.
“The football program around here has fallen off. It’s horrible. We had family in Denver so we decided that would be a better situation for him,” Will Rodgers Sr., the defensive end’s father, said in a phone interview with The Seattle Times Tuesday morning.
Most Read Sports Stories
- Analysis: Where will Washington land? Here are all of the Huskies' conference realignment options.
- Seahawks and Trail Blazers are not for sale, says team chair Jody Allen
- The Pac-12 will never be the same again, and that's sad
- Mariners sweep Padres, get within a game of .500
- Analysis: With survival at stake, Pac-12 should consider merging with the ACC
Valor Christian is the incumbent Colorado state 5A champion and featured Michigan commit Dylan McCaffrey, the brother of Stanford running back Christian McCaffrey, at quarterback last season.
Rodgers Sr. said that the initial plan had been for his son to finish out his senior year at Valor Christian.
But, “he came home at the beginning of January because he wanted to graduate with his class,” Rodgers Sr. said.
Rodgers Jr. re-enrolled at Arthur Hill High, where he’s now playing basketball.
WSU linebackers coach Roy Manning and new defensive line coach Jeff Phelps paid the Rodgers’ a visit on Monday night in Saginaw and attended Will’s basketball game. The defensive end verbally committed to the coaches before they left.
The Cougs have Manning to thank for Rodgers’ commitment. Manning grew up in Saginaw, Mich. And played football at Saginaw High, Arthur Hill’s rival school. Rodgers Sr. was a defensive coordinator at the high school level for a long time, and he recalls coaching against Manning.
Last year, they reconnected when Rodgers Sr. sent Manning his son’s tape and asked if Manning would help forward it to college coaches he knew. Manning kept an eye on the up-and-coming young pass-rusher during his stint as an assistant coach at Michigan, but had forgotten about Rodgers Jr. after he moved to Pullman and changed recruiting territories.
Manning took one took at the tape and told Rodgers Sr. he wasn’t going to forward it to anyone because the Cougars were interested. Two days later, WSU offered Rodgers Jr. a full scholarship.
The Rodgerses took an official visit to WSU the weekend of Jan. 14-15, and the elder Rodgers said his son loved everything about WSU.
“The only downfall was that Washington State is so far away,” Rodgers Sr. said. “But the pluses outweighed the minuses, and with Roy being out there, I felt comfortable sending him so far away.”
The missing link, however, was the vacant defensive line coaching position. Salave’a had just left for Oregon and the Cougars had yet to name his replacement at the time.
But that changed a week later when Phelps formally joined the staff and flew out to Saginaw with Manning to pay the Rodgerses a visit.
Phelps’ background as a longtime Minnesota assistant gave him some street cred with Rodgers Sr.
“The new defensive line coach seems like a great guy, and he knew (former Minnesota head football coach) Jerry Kill,” Rodgers Sr. said. “Coach Kill coached at Saginaw Valley High. I knew coach Kill, and I knew that anyone who coached under coach Kill must be solid.”
That’s how the Cougars won over the Rodgerses.
Rodgers Jr. picked WSU over offers from Michigan State, Arizona, Colorado State, Nevada, Toledo and Wyoming. He’s rated a three-star prospect and the No. 13 defensive end prospect in the West region by Scout.com, and is a full-academic qualifier according to his father.
Rodgers Jr. intends to major in business, with an emphasis on entrepreneurship.