By Gabriel Stovall
McDONOUGH, Ga. — Coaches know their kids. And Eagle’s Landing Christian Academy football coach, Jonathan Gess knew Josh Rogers wasn’t happy with his performance in last Friday’s 14-0 win against Class 5A power Woodward Academy.
Nevermind the fact that he was part of a team effort that helped ELCA hand Woodward its first shutout loss in 13 years. That was good and all, and Rogers is definitely a team player. But nine carries and one yard wasn’t cutting it for a player who contributed to a vaunted Chargers rushing attack during the 2019 season with 683 yards a nine touchdowns on 83 carries (8.3 ypc) and was expected to be the featured back this season for the five-time defending Class A champion.
And Gess knew it. And he mentioned it during the postgame huddle last week after the Woodward Academy win.
“Josh, I know you wanted to play better tonight,” Gess said. “I know everybody wanted to. But just keep choppin, man. You’re gonna get your yards.”
Turns out Gess was a prophet, at least for this past Friday. Rogers erupted for a single-game school record, 410 rushing yards on 21 carries, and he scored seven touchdowns to boot in the Chargers’ 58-0 win over Heritage-Newnan. Let’s put the performance into perspective: In one game, the 5-foot-8, 175-pound senior rushed for more than half of his 2019 rushing total. Rogers says a short memory was the key for his Week 2 outburst.
“I knew I couldn’t let last weeks game affect my practice performance this week so I just kept a positive attitude and worked hard and stayed focus so I would be prepared for the next game,” Rogers said.
“I thought he’d have a big week,” Gess said. “We probably gave up on some things against Woodward last week. We probably should’ve given Josh the ball more against Woodward, and we didn’t. We hadn’t had our full offensive line together until just Wednesday, due to injuries and everything. So with all of that, and just the way Josh prepares each week, I didn’t think it’d be this big, but we thought he’d do some good things.”
Rogers went into halftime with close to 230 yards while ELCA had a 26-0 lead, and Gess knows he probably would’ve been safe to pull his starters out of the game to begin the third quarter, but in the name of getting a young group of offensive starters to gel, he decided to let them play out the third quarter.
“We just wanted those guys to work on getting better,” Gess said. “And when we got to the end of the third quarter, we saw Josh only needed 20 yards to break 400, so we let him take the first play of the fourth to see if he could break it, and he did. But that means Josh basically broke that record in three quarters.”
It was an overall dominating offensive performance for ELCA that was much needed, considering last week’s offensive woes. Rogers’ 410 yards was part of a whopping 605 total team rushing yards. As a team, ELCA averaged almost 17 yards per carry and scored all nine of its touchdowns on the ground.
Additionally, quarterback Phil Massengale helped Rogers with 151 yards on six carries and a score. Because of ELCA’s run game prowess, the Chargers only produced 21 passing yards. But who needs a passing game when your offensive line is opening up holes large enough to drive trucks through them?
In fact, Rogers immediately gave praise to his o-line for its help in paving the way for a monster ground game. Rogers said he could tell that there would be plenty of running room all game by the way the trenchmen were dominating early.
“I felt it was gonna be a good night for me after I broke the first run,” he said. “And my O-line had everything blocked, so we were good all night.”
Gess praised his starters up front, including obvious kudos to 6-foot-3, 370-pound 3-start senior prospect and Florida State commit, Bryson Estes. But there’s also 6-foot-7, 360-pound left tackle Zach Owens, 6-foot-4, 290-pound left guard DJ Chester, 6-foot-2, 280-pound right guard Chase Missouri and 5-foot-10, 220-pound center Isaiah Haralson.
Haralson is also a senior, but Owens, Chester and Missouri are promising sophomores.
“Zach’s huge, but he’s just 15 years old, and he’s still gotta learn how to play football,” Gess said. “He’s gotta learn to be disciplined, be on time, work hard, and all those things we demand. And that’s really the same for all those young guys. And they’re young. They’re kids. Most times with them, you just have to battle the attitudes and things that come along with being young. But they’re coming together. You could see that Friday night.
“We’re full up front. We’re big. But we’ve gotta keep learning how to be physical. We’ve got the pieces. And even though we had a great game Friday night, we’re not a great offense just yet. But we can be.”
As for Rogers, his was the kind of performance indicative of a player who wanted to take his game up a few notches in his last year of high school. It also showed that the hard work Rogers put in to make himself a more complete running back has paid off, even with the distractions of a pandemic playing in the background.
“This year, I wanted to be more of a balanced back with a combination of power and speed,” he said. “So I trained with my trainer on his trail which includes high hills, trees and rocks in order to work on being quick and being able to run through tackles when I need to. But (COVID-19) did not affect any of my training.”
So after a 410-yard rushing night, what do you do for an encore? Especially with potentially stiffer challenges ahead with Pace Academy, Crisp County and Blessed Trinity currently on the schedule.
“Me and my o-line are just going to go to practice next week, lock in and practice hard so we can continue to win,” he said.
Currently, Rogers holds scholarship offers from Savannah State, Reinhardt and LaGrange. Surely he likely won’t end the season averaging 400 yards per game. But if he keeps churning out similar dominating performances, that college scholarship list will exponentially grow.
“Josh is just the epitome of a steadfast guy,” Gess said. “He’s got the talent, but he’s had to play behind a really good back like Keaton (Mitchell). A lot of guys would’ve went ahead and transferred and tried to make it somewhere else, but he and his family aren’t that way. They stuck around and he waited his turn, and it’s paying off. And I think he’s one of those guys where, the more people see him, the more he’ll have the chance to get more offers.”