Jim Rankin had an inkling that he had a high-major Division I recruit when the North Allegheny coach sent game tape of a senior to college coaches last fall and got return calls wanting to know who No. 87 was.
They soon found out his name: Chris Rogers.
“I had a pretty good sophomore year and a decent junior year and coach told me I might have a few letters from colleges,” Rogers said, “but I never expected calls from Michigan, North Carolina, Pitt and Penn State.”
Rogers, a 6-foot-3, 241-pounder, is one of the WPIAL’s most versatile interior linemen. A three-year starter, he plays tight end and defensive tackle for the Tigers, but is projected to play defensive end in college.
“When he was a sophomore, I thought he could be the next person in our program to become a Division-I recruit,” Rankin said. “He has soft hands, has run a sub-4.7 40 and he can catch the ball. His speed on defense, in terms of getting out of the stance quickly, is excellent. He’s just hard to work against. He’s just so fast and strong.”
Rogers became an All-Quad North and All-Class AAAA player last season, when he was particularly dominant after moving from outside linebacker to defensive tackle following NA’s 1-4 start.
Rogers had 19 receptions for 278 yards and four touchdowns last season. His best offensive game was against Butler, when he caught a 68-yard touchdown pass.
Defensively, Rogers recorded 75 tackles — including 12 for a loss — eight sacks and two forced fumbles. He had six tackles and two sacks in the Tigers’ 19-0 win over arch-rival North Hills in the season finale.
Rogers also averaged 40.3 yards per punt.
“When a school sees you can play offense and defense pretty well — and can kick the ball 40.3 yards every time, that says, This guy can play somewhere ,” Rogers said. “It’s more natural for me to try to push guys around than to stay outside. Plus, it’s closer to the action.”
It’s no wonder 13 football programs have offered him scholarships in writing. Rogers already has narrowed it down to a pair of Big Ten Conference schools — Penn State and Michigan — and plans to decide by July.
“I’m between two schools at the moment — Michigan and Penn State,” said Rogers, who has a 3.3 grade-point average and scored 950 on the SAT. “Both programs have great coaches with great personalities. They’re two places you’d like to be the next four or five years.”
Penn State initially recruited Rogers as a tight end until defensive coordinator Tom Bradley sent him an e-mail, asking in the last line if Rogers was sure he didn’t want to play defense. Rogers immediately called back and told Bradley his preference, so the Nittany Lions switched gears and started recruiting him to play defensive end.
“To me, football is football,” Rogers said. “Put me wherever you want. I’d prefer to play defensive end in college. I think my strong point is my speed. For being 6-3, 240, I can pretty much chase down anyone on the outside.
“Once you get there, you’re Penn State property.”
Michigan, however, was the first to offer Rogers a scholarship and the first to call when the contact period began in May. It’s no coincidence that Michigan appears to be the leader in a two-horse race.
“Michigan has a little better overall atmosphere,” Rogers said. “It seemed more of a home to me, more comfortable.”
The Wolverines boast a strong contingent of former WPIAL stars in linebacker Scott McClintock (Belle Vernon), guard Dan Simelis (Montour) and receiver Steve Breaston and safety Ryan Mundy (Woodland Hills).
“It does help because when they recruit in Pennsylvania they get a bundle of guys,” Rogers said. “They have faith in the western Pa. guys.”
Rogers was wowed by Michigan coaches during an unofficial visit to Ann Arbor this past winter, especially when defensive line coach Bill Sheridan immediately recognized him and rattled off his particulars.
“That impressed me,” Rogers said, “that he knew who I was, knew my number and what school I was from.”