As UCLA Coach Terry Donahue watched films of the University of Washington’s football team with his coaching staff Sunday afternoon, a big defensive tackle caught his eye.
“Ten minutes into the movie I was saying, ‘Who’s that tackle?’ ” Donahue said. “They tell me Reggie Rogers, Don Rogers’ brother. And I say, ‘Oh, great.’ ”
Note that as a very sarcastic “Oh, great.”
What Donahue does not want to see is another Don Rogers on the other side of the football when UCLA plays at Washington Saturday. On his side, it would be fine.
Don Rogers, the American Football Conference defensive rookie of the year for the Cleveland Browns last season, was a three-year starter for Donahue at free safety. He took over when Kenny Easley left.
When Reggie came out of Norte Del Rio High School in Sacramento in 1983, the Bruin football staff was well aware of him. But, at that time, Reggie had decided to play basketball. He wasn’t recruited by UCLA to play basketball, so he went to Washington.
Last season, Reggie took up football again, playing for Washington as an outside linebacker. But UCLA and Washington did not meet on the football field last year, so this is the first the Bruins have seen of Reggie in pads.
Is he big enough to make the switch from basketball to football?
“He’s big enough,” Donahue said flatly. Indeed, at 6 feet 7 inches and 245 pounds, he should be able to hold his own. “I was really impressed with him on the films,” Donahue said. “He is dominating at times, and he hasn’t reached his potential.”
Washington Coach Don James seconded that. “Reggie is capable of doing better,” he said. “He’s still growing into the position. He has the ability to do it.
“He’s replacing Ronnie Holmes (first-round draft pick of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers), who we had at defensive tackle for three years. Reggie’s been there three weeks. But he has really made progress. He’s an excellent athlete.”
Rogers is fourth on the team in tackles after three games, but he leads the team in tackles for losses of yardage. He also has one sack to his credit. He had hoped for better stats, but moving from left side outside linebacker to right side defensive tackle is taking its toll.
“It’s all starting to come back to me, now,” Rogers said. “I was away from football for two years, and then they put me at outside linebacker, so I had a lot to learn last year. Now I’m back to where I’m supposed to be. I was a defensive tackle in high school. But I was just getting comfortable last year at linebacker, and now to move is like starting over again.
“I’ve only had three games on the D line, but I’m feeling better about it all the time. This is a better position for me--at least, that’s what they tell me. I’m more successful here.”
He had success last year, too, winning a starting job at outside linebacker. He made 74 tackles, 10 of them for losses of yardage, caused three fumbles, deflected three passes and blocked a field goal.
“I’m glad to be back playing football,” Rogers said. “That’s what I should have been doing all along. The only reason I took those years off was because I had a back injury. It wasn’t a broken back, or anything like that, but it was a bad bruise and it gave me problems. They told me not to play football.”
It would be fitting to report that Rogers’ back injury was suffered in the line of duty--saving a game with a diving tackle. But, in truth, he was injured in a fight after a prep football game, as the opposing fans came pouring out of the stands. “It wasn’t just me, it was a great big thing,” Rogers said.
So he couldn’t follow his brother to UCLA to play football?
“I wouldn’t have done that, anyway,” he said. “I didn’t want to go where I would be Don Rogers’ little brother. I have no regrets about coming to Washington. I have regrets about playing basketball instead of football.”
Rogers had a series of well-documented frustrations as he and Washington’s basketball coach, Marv Harshman, clashed over style of play and what position Rogers should be playing.
He started at forward as a freshman, and the team did a lot of running. That was fine with Rogers. But the next year, when the game slowed down and he was asked to be a backup forward and center, he was not happy.
“That was the problem,” Rogers said. “I had been told I’d be playing at forward. I wasn’t a center. Off the court, I got along with Coach Harshman fine.”
Harshman is gone now and has been replaced by Coach Andy Russo, but Rogers said that he has not decided whether he’ll go back to the basketball team. “I haven’t even talked to the new coach,” he said. “I’m going to wait until after football. Hopefully, that will mean waiting until after the Rose Bowl. That’s everybody’s goal.”