Parkway’s new starting quarterback knows all about the responsibility and expectations of his position.
He’s heard reminders all offseason from fans wondering whether the Panthers’ offense can maintain a level of excellence unmatched over the last five years by any other passers in the area, save Ole Miss freshman-to-be Shea Patterson during his two seasons at Calvary. LSU starter Brandon Harris and Oklahoma State signee Keondre Wudtee routinely shredded opposing defenses to carry the Panthers to two semifinals in three seasons, including a championship appearance.
Justin Rogers wants to go beyond that level to become the school’s best, and he knows all the numbers needed to get there. It’s a lofty goal for someone yet to throw a pass in a high school game, but his impressive resume makes it more than just an empty boast.
“I take it a little bit by little bit from what (Brandon) did, Wudtee did, and kind of just try to put it together,” Rogers said.
He already holds eight scholarship offers from schools like TCU and Arkansas as the nation’s 13th best dual-threat quarterback in the class of 2018, according to the 247sports Composite Rankings. Even coach David Feaster can’t say for sure how much Parkway’s reputation and added exposure from past success played a role, but Rogers’ obvious talent draws serious attention on its own.
Both Harris and Wudtee didn’t receive big-time offers until after a sensational second season, before Harris became a senior and just three months before Signing Day for Wudtee. Both took longer to develop into college-ready bodies, and Feaster said Wudtee focused more on basketball early in his career.
“A year ago (Rogers) was 6-3 and a half already and he was already built a little bit,” Feaster said. “He didn’t look like just a little skinny kid.”
At 6-foot-4 and 190 pounds, it’s easy to imagine Rogers won’t be intimidated when he finally faces big, fast pass rushers looking to take him to the turf on Friday nights. An air of natural confidence and a strong, accurate arm only add to the aura, not to mention an impressive 4.57 time in the 40-yard dash.
That’s about the same speed as Harris and Wudtee, although Feaster said Harris possessed the quickest first step of the trio. Still, Parkway’s offense works best when the quarterback only runs as necessary or if the defense provides an opening.
“I want him to have the freedom to go play,” Feaster said. “If the pocket breaks, if I call a bad play and this guy’s unblocked off the edge and he’s got to create he runs around, he’ll look downfield, if he doesn’t see anything he pulls it down and runs, he won’t get hollered at.”
So far Feaster likes what he sees in Rogers’ decisionmaking abilities, a skill they focused on all spring. He won’t face as much of a challenge as Wudtee in his debut when he committed six turnovers in a loss against a loaded Calvary secondary, but Rogers will see one of the state’s best defenses in the District 1-5A opener against Evangel on Sept. 23.
Wudtee threw for nearly 3,500 yards and 34 touchdowns, the same number Harris threw for when he accumulated almost 3,200 passing yards and more than 1,000 on the ground as a senior. Even though Rogers didn’t play quarterback before his freshman season at Parkway, he remembers watching Harris as an eighth grader and soaking up everything he could from Wudtee.
“I was all the time asking questions, like why he made that throw, what he’s reading, what’s his keys, what he’d check,” Rogers said. “We used to go work out on our own every weekend, we’d just talk about his secrets and stuff he’d do to beat a defense and all that type of stuff.”
A wealth of experience and knowledge from his predecessors won’t be Rogers’ only advantage over them, thanks to his childhood friend, Terrace Marshall, Jr. The 6-foot-4 soon-to-be junior developed into the nation’s No. 2 wide receiver in his class, according to the 247Sports Composite Ranking, and the duo constantly train together outside of practice to strengthen an unbreakable bond.
Thanks to their fathers, they’ve known each other since they were four years old and planned to go to college together when their Parkway careers began. It’s still a real possibility with both getting offers from many of the same high-profile programs, but Rogers said they’ll also be looking out for their own best interests.
All those offers and calls from college coaches to Feaster’s office could present distractions, but he said Rogers and Marshall demonstrate great leadership while rarely missing workouts or practices. The longtime coach steadfastly refuses to compare the overall merits of his three tall, talented quarterbacks, but Rogers could rise to the top of other’s lists if he can put up better numbers or capture the ultimate prize that eluded both Harris and Wudtee.
“There’s always the hype or anything,” Rogers said. “But I try not to focus on that, try to just get the job done and get a state championship.”