Thunder receiver off to strong start as big-play maker

by: COURTESY OF PORTLAND THUNDER - Eric Rogers, wide receiver for the Portland Thunder, has played only a few games for the Arena Football League team, but he already has distinguished himself with tough catches and scoring plays.When Portland Thunder receiver Eric Rogers leaps to retrieve a pass, even if he’s cascading toward a table in the stands or forced to maneuver the out-of-bounds wall, just assume he’ll find a way.

“I like to consider myself someone who makes the tough catches where people say, ‘Wow,’ ” he says.

Rogers, 23, found his way onto ESPN SportsCenter’s top-10 two straight weeks for his breathtaking touchdown grabs.

“The first week, it was kind of crazy falling into the table,” he says. “When it happened the second week, I was like, ‘Man, this is even more crazy.’ ”

Rogers was transported to the Thunder about a month ago, and though he won’t admit as much, he’s already established himself as the alpha of the receiving core and one of the most outstanding players on the first-year Arena Football League team.

“I’m just a small piece to the puzzle,” he says.

His numbers, however, have been eye-popping. Rogers has totaled 36 catches, 429 yards and 14 touchdowns in four games for the Thunder, who have a 3-7 record midway through the season and after Thursday’s 55-40 victory at home against the San Antonio Talons.

“The last few weeks have been crazy numbers. I don’t expect that to happen all the time,” he says, adding, “I’d rather trade those numbers in for a win any day.”

Highlight reel catches and gaudy numbers aren’t new for Rogers. While attending California Lutheran, Rogers accrued 21 minutes worth of highlight plays that can be found on YouTube. They prove his penchant for playmaking, but his catches were unheralded because no one submitted them to SportsCenter.

Rogers broke all-time school records in touchdowns and receiving and finished his college career with 220 receptions, 31 touchdowns and 3,592 receiving yards.

“The coaches had the utmost confidence in me,” he says. “I bought into the idea that I wanted to be one of the greatest at that school.”

After not hearing his name called in the 2013 NFL draft, the Dallas Cowboys offered Rogers a training camp invitation. However, the team eventually cut him.

“They weren’t looking for what I had to offer, I guess. They made the best move for their organization,” he says.

After Rogers missed a football season for the first time since 1997, he signed with the Thunder in October, but later tried to make the Canadian Football League Ottawa RedBlacks, only to be cut again.

Rogers is producing title-wave performances in the AFL and says he isn’t concerned about making his way back to the CFL or NFL.

“I’m just going one week at a time,” he says. “Once you think too far ahead, you get ahead of yourself and everything falls apart.”

He adds: “I’m just looking forward to playing games this season. If anything else comes up, I will discuss it with my agent.”

Whenever his career running through walls ends, he plans on beginning a career breaking through doors.

“I’m going to go into law enforcement,” he says. “But I’m going to play football as long as I can. Then maybe specialized task force like SWAT.”

Rogers says he is attracted to the steady benefits policemen receive. Plus, he says, “You always need police officers to patrol the area.”

For now, Rogers is focused on continuing his lifelong streak of playing for teams with winning records.

“That’s the goal, to get up those wins,” he says.

Rogers is hopeful the Thunder can turn things around after a slow start.

“As long as I keep making plays and help my QB, and everyone starts doing their job on a more consistent basis, we’ll be fine,” he says.

Though he’s flourishing in Arena Football, he still hasn’t completely mastered its rules. When he scored his second touchdown while sliding his legs against the sideline wall, initially he believed it would be waved off. In college football, you have to touch at least one foot on the ground inbounds. However, in Arena Football, if players maintain possession of the ball while touching the wall, it’s ruled a catch.

“I didn’t know it was a touchdown. I was just excited that I caught it,” he says. “When the ref raised his arms signaling a touchdown, I was pumped up and did a little celebration.”

After his first highlight-reel touchdown, where he crashed into a seating area filled with Coors Light-sponsored tables, his mom offered him a humorous remark.

“My mom told me, ‘You can’t play football and go get something to eat at the same time,’ ” he says.

Rogers isn’t sure why he and Thunder quarterback Danny Southwick have developed an on-the-field rapport so easily.

“He just throws it up to a point, and I go get it,” Rogers says.

Rogers says his biggest strengths are “my ball skills and my length. Guys try to get on me. I use my arms to push off a little or try to get the ball at the highest point.”

His 6-4 stature provides a larger target than most receivers.

“It helps to be able to throw the ball up and have faith in me that I’m gonna go get it,” he says.

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