About 20 months later, wide receiver Da’Rick Rogers is proving why he was the highest-rated 2010 recruit in the state of Georgia.
Only he’s doing it at Tennessee.
Rogers, a true sophomore from Calhoun, Ga., is already a go-to wide receiver in the second year of Derek Dooley’s rebuilding efforts with the Volunteers’ program.
And that is a big reason why Rogers says now that he picked Tennessee, switching after a lengthy commitment to UGA.
“I fell in love with the team and the city,” Rogers said Wednesday. “I just really wanted to be a part of a program that was rebuilding and be that guy on that team. That’s what really changed it for me.”
Saturday night’s game in Neyland Stadium won’t be Rogers’ first time clashing with Georgia. He played a supporting role for the Vols last year in Sanford Stadium, catching one pass for minus-3 yards as the Bulldogs rolled to a 41-14 victory.
“As soon as the clock went dead, I've been waiting to get at them next year,” Rogers told reporters in Knoxville earlier this week.
And this time around, he is expected to be a leading man. After a season-ending injury for talented receiver Justin Hunter, Rogers has now stepped forward as the top option in a powerful Vols passing offense.
“Once I got the playbook down,” Rogers said, “I was able to just be fast. Then it was just, ‘Who are the better athletes?’ … It really hasn’t changed that much (without Hunter). The objective was always to catch balls and score touchdowns. The thing now is you’re the go-to guy now. I know that. You have to make big plays when the ball is thrown to you.”
Rogers enters this weekend with 27 receptions for 442 receiving yards, which is only one catch and 36 yards off the SEC leader in each category, Jarius Wright of Arkansas.
“He’s having a great year, isn’t he?” said Rodney Garner, UGA’s recruiting coordinator.
“You can’t dwell on the guys you didn’t get,” Garner said. “I can’t speak to you why he chose to do that (and sign with Tennessee). The only person that knows that is Da’Rick. But we thought he was a great player coming out of high school. We would have loved to have him, but he chose to go there.
“I think he’s being the player everybody thought he was going to be. Hopefully, he’s happy, and he went there for the right reasons. But he is a great player. There’s no question about that.”
As is well-known by now, Tennessee recruited Nash Nance, a close friend of Rogers’ in Calhoun who was originally set to attend Vanderbilt. Rogers stayed publicly committed to Georgia until days before Signing Day, but he visited Knoxville leading up to then and eventually chose to sign with the Vols.
UGA head coach Mark Richt says he had an inkling of Rogers’ decision.
“By the time he did decommit, we were pretty sure that he was going to do that. It didn’t come as a shock at that point,” Richt said. “We think he’s a good player. We wanted him, we recruited him, we thought we had him for a while, then it changed. It happens in recruiting. It doesn’t happen a lot with us historically. But there were some things that made him feel like Tennessee was the best place for him, so that’s where he is and now we have to defend him.”
Rogers admits the Georgia rivalry is “a little personal” for him. He remembers “being booed by a whole stadium” last year in Athens.
“That was new to me,” he said. “It was crazy to hear that. It didn’t really affect me. It was just a new environment, a new thing. But I’m ready this year, trained a lot harder. It will be a good game.”