Rodgers on track to leave as OSU’s receptions leader
by: CHRISTOPHER ONSTOTT Oregon State receiver James Rodgers works against a double-team by UCLA. The senior from Texas figures to break Mike Hass’ school record for pass catches, as he continues his return to prominence after knee surgery.

CORVALLIS — James Rodgers has never met Mike Hass. Wouldn’t mind, though. “I was looking through Facebook just yesterday,” Rodgers says, “and I wanted to request him, but I didn’t.” Maybe someday. On Saturday, Rodgers is likely to pass former Biletnikoff Award winner Hass and become Oregon State career receptions leader in the Beavers’ home finale against Washington (12:30 p.m., Reser Stadium). The 5-7, 190-pound Rodgers needs three catches to move past Hass (220) and stand alone atop the record books. “It will be a great accomplishment,” says the understated Rodgers. Indeed, it will. Rodgers has put together a storybook career since landing on the Oregon State campus in 2008 as a mostly unrecruited player out of Richmond, Texas. The senior flanker already is the OSU career leader in all-purpose yardage (6,336), punt return average (13.7) and rushing yards per carry (8.2). He ranks sixth in kickoff return average (24.7) and ninth in scoring (176 points) and is the only receiver in school history to rush for more than 1,000 yards (1,417). In three decades as a college coach, OSU head man Mike Riley considers Rodgers both the most versatile and most hardworking player he has worked with. Riley has grown close to many of his players, but perhaps never more so than to Rodgers. “It’s a unique relationship, for sure,” Riley says. Rodgers and younger brother Jacquizz were raised by their mother, Tasha Williams, and their uncle, Rodney Williams, who has served as the brothers’ role model and father figure. Riley has been more than a coach to James. “He has pretty much been an extended father figure, because of all the things he has done,” Rodgers says. “Not only for me, but for other players. He has helped me out a lot. I’m trying to be as good a person as I can because of him.” Riley marvels at Oregon State’s good fortunes when offensive coordinator Danny Langsdorf received a phone call from a coach at Laney College in Oakland, Calif., John Beam, in December 2007. Beam had coached in a postseason all-star game in Florida and noticed a cornerback who had been offered a scholarship by only one school — Texas State — and had committed there. “John told Danny, ‘There’s this kid who is not being recruited very heavily, and he’s a really good player,’ ” Riley says. “The rest is Oregon State history.” James Rodgers came and made an impact as a true freshman in 2008, breaking in dramatically while running his trademark play — the fly sweep. The next year, Oregon State signed younger brother Jacquizz. “The dominoes that followed James and Quizz have opened more doors in Texas for us,” Riley says. “Everybody in Texas knows about the Rodgers brothers.” Rodgers, quiet by nature, is a team captain and leader by example for his teammates. “James is the most respected guy on our team by the players,” receivers coach Brent Brennan says. “The way they talk about him, the way they listen when he talks, the command he has of the group when he voices his opinion — he has earned over time their trust and their respect.” The respect has only deepened as Rodgers battled his way back onto the field after a debilitating knee injury that required a pair of surgeries during the past offseason. “They’ve seen him battle through this injury and a hard time in his life,” Brennan says. “He has their total respect.” Tight end Joe Halahuni entered Oregon State in the winter 2007, six months before Rodgers arrived. Halahuni’s admiration for his fellow senior has deepened through the years. “James is everything Coach Riley wants in an Oregon State player, someone to represent this program,” Halahuni says. “He works so hard every day. His character shows on the field every single play. If he’s not getting the ball, he’s blocking somebody, and usually he’s putting them on their back. “It doesn’t matter who he’s going against, he’s going to give it everything he has. You don’t see a lot of his type anywhere. Everybody respects him as a player and as a person. I don’t think there’s anybody we respect more.” Brennan has had a close-up look as Rodgers has dealt with recovery from his serious knee operations. “He has worked so hard to get back to where he was athletically and physically before the surgeries,” Brennan says. “When you’re as great a player as he is, you have expectations of how your body should react when you tell it to go. We’re starting to see him get closer and closer to that. He has been constantly improving this fall because of how hard he has worked and has prepared. “I remember during training camp, he’d be dragging that leg when he’d come out of a turn. He just couldn’t pick it up. He could hear his toe hit the ground when he tried to speed-turn on some of his breaking routes. He was frustrated by it. I said, ‘It’s going to take some time for that to get better.’ ” Rodgers had his second knee surgery in February. He was told recovery was a full-year process and considered sitting out the season and appealing for a medical redshirt year before opting to return this year. He didn’t play in Oregon State’s first two games, then debuted Sept. 24 against UCLA. But he has caught 19 of his 41 passes this season in the past three games. “We’ve watched it the past few weeks — he has improved dramatically,” Halahuni says. “He’s like the old James Rodgers. We all knew it would happen, but not this quick.” Rodgers says part of it is just having more confidence in the knee holding up, and not holding back. “I’ve stopped thinking about the knee,” he says. “It’s easy for somebody to say, ‘Go out there and don’t worry about it.’ But lately, I’ve just gone out and played, and whatever happens, happens. “I feel good right now. I feel like my explosiveness is coming back. I’m able to step out of a few more tackles than I was when I first came back.” On Saturday, Rodgers plays his final game at Reser Stadium. Maybe it will end with him holding the school career receptions record. “That’d be nice,” he says with a smile, “but I’d rather have a win.”

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