|After making 67 catches for 1,040 yards last season, Da'Rick Rogers got the boot at Tennessee. (AP)|
COOKEVILLE, Tenn. -- To say it has been a whirlwind week for Da'Rick Rogers is an understatement along the lines of saying that Jerry Rice was a good wide receiver.
If Rogers, the No. 7 receiver prospect for the 2013 NFL Draft before he was booted by Tennessee, winds up one day where Rice did for two decades -- catching passes for pay and setting lots of records in the NFL -- he might have some old friends from his newest program to thank.
The former All-SEC performer had an instant impact in his first game for Tennessee Tech on Thursday night, catching three passes for 75 yards and a touchdown in the Golden Eagles' 41-31 victory over Hampton.
"You've got to give him respect for being an All-SEC player," Hampton strong safety Carvin Johnson said. "He can make plays."
Rogers drew an indefinite suspension from Volunteers coach Derek Dooley a week ago after failing multiple drug tests.
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By Sunday, he was visiting high school teammates Tre Lamb and Adam Urbano, who just happen to be Tennessee Tech's starting quarterback and running back.
"Everyone reached out to me, but when I came up Sunday and they reached out to me, I decided later that day I was coming here," Rogers said.
Before that was official, though, Rogers walked into the office of his new coach, Watson Brown.
"He told me that he doesn't take in guys from other programs," Rogers said, "and that he talked to the seniors on this team. When he said they would accept me, that gave me a lot of motivation. You want to play well for them."
Playing well hasn't been a problem for the 6-foot-3, 205-pound junior, who could be an NFL team's top receiver in a few years if he can combine his on-field talent with better off-field decisions. Scouts will need to see him produce -- and do it consistently -- against far lesser competition than he faced in the SEC.
Last year, Rogers caught 67 passes for 1,040 yards and nine touchdowns despite being the only consistent big-play threat for a 5-7 Tennessee team.
But his behavior was an issue throughout his time in Knoxville. He was arrested for his role in a brawl involving multiple teammates during his freshman season. CBSSports.com reported on Tuesday that Rogers further irritated Dooley with a "complete meltdown" after a season-ending 10-7 loss last year at Kentucky.
That, too, will be part of the background every NFL team does before bringing him into its locker room.
Forthright about the circumstances that led him to Tennessee Tech, Rogers said he has reflected on his choices.
"I just have to look deep into myself," he said, looking his questioner straight in the eye. "I plan to build, grow and mature as a person."
Rogers said Tuesday that he plans to finish his final two seasons at Tennessee Tech but equivocated on those plans after the Hampton game.
"I'm just committed one day, one week at a time right now," he said. "All I'm worrying about now is the North Greenville game next Thursday."
That Rogers is playing in front of 10,000 fans now instead of 100,000 doesn't matter today. He's still playing, and for that, he can thank old friends and an old coach.
"He's a playmaker we need," Brown said.