Jake Rogers was less than 24 hours removed from doing Jake Rogers things in a 63-23 win over Kent Roosevelt. The Highland senior running back had scored touchdowns of 5, 36, 48, 20 and 35 yards on a mere 13 touches that included reversing field four times on a silly, zig-zag kickoff return of 36 yards.
Guard Greg Karwowski, a first-year starter with a personality to match his 6-foot-5, 307-pound frame, couldn’t resist. The senior edited a picture of Rogers posing with linemen Chad Leach, Spencer Phillips, Justin Haag, Sam Waibel and Karwowski, blurred out the big fellas and posted the following on Twitter: “Guys I’d like to introduce you to the Highland Hornets football team.”
Rogers responded with a crying smile emoji, because fulfilling the role of record-breaking superstar never affected the 5-9, 170-pounder. If anything, it became a running inside joke within the program.
Rogers didn’t mind. The line did the dirty work, so the least he could do was take good-natured ribbing.
“You’ve got to give all the credit to them,” Rogers said. “The big boys up front, I wouldn’t have done it without them. It means a lot to them.
“There was a lot of unseen stuff that doesn’t show up in the statistics.”
What Rogers accomplished was no joke, however, as the Gazette MVP led the incredibly inexperienced Hornets on a seven-game winning streak that nearly resulted in the Suburban League American Conference championship and a Division II playoff berth.
The Bowling Green State recruit had 193 carries for 1,391 yards and 18 touchdowns, 19 catches for 353 yards and six TDs, seven kickoff returns for 189 yards and one TD, 11 punt returns for 257 yards and three TDs and two interceptions for zero yards. That’s 232 touches for 2,190 all-purpose yards and school records for touchdowns (28) and points (170).
For his career, Rogers had school records of 573 touches, 5,954 all-purpose yards, 53 touchdowns and 322 points. He also will forever be remembered as one of the most gifted punt returners in state history with 43 attempts for a 23.7 average and seven TDs, which are tied for second most in Ohio lore with 1940s Medina legend Jim Johnson, among others.
With a variety of juke-n-jive moves, a sneaky stiff-arm and a unique ability to wiggle away from big hits inside — his 6.68 cone drill time would have ranked 11th at the 2018 NFL Combine — Rogers made everything work as Highland averaged a school-record 36.7 points. Most of his runs were on power, zone or speed options, but he also went to work on jet sweeps and counter treys and even went to his future college position, slot receiver, in passing situations.
Rogers also allowed only three completions at cornerback, and a whopping 85.8 percent of his receiving yards came after the catch.
There was nothing he couldn’t do.
“I really am running out of words to describe this kid,” coach Mike Gibbons said after an important victory at Aurora. “He’s always on, but again, he’s a great kid. I hope everyone understands that he’s a hard worker, a great human being and great football player as well.”
While Rogers had 227 yards from scrimmage (146 rushing, 81 receiving) and three TDs vs. Aurora and 272 (227, 45) and four vs. Copley, he saved the season in Week 3 vs. North Royalton.
Highland had been struggling offensively as the all-new line took its lumps. Rogers had a mere 5 yards on 13 carries in the opener against Brunswick — he still had two key punt returns in the 28-7 win — then had to unleash every move in his arsenal to record 212 yards from scrimmage (170 rushing, 42 receiving) in a 24-7 loss at Medina.
Against the Bears, however, magic happened. Rogers had 28 carries for 245 yards and two scores and took a kickoff 82 yards to the house. He capped the night by catching a backside wheel route for a 4-yard score as time expired in a 45-43 victory.
“We started taking every week seriously,” Rogers said. “Medina, we kind of got cocky against them. Obviously that was one of our worst games, because we knew we couldn’t lose again because our region was so tough. The O-line starting clicking and we averaged 40 points. The North Royalton game was the wake-up call.
“All of the weapons we had, I know a lot of teams keyed on me, but I’d take a fake and the quarterback (Jack McGinty) pulled it and they couldn’t stop tit. Then we had wide receivers like Bryce Profitt to throw deep. We had a lot of ways to hurt you.”
It was off to the races after that, as McGinty, Profitt and the line blossomed. Highland averaged 45.4 points on 408.3 yards during its winning streak, and the defense led by first-year, full-time starters Jack Myers, Jack Kohmann, Joey Hammond-Johnson and Brady Linder kept making impact plays.
While the season ended with a muddy 21-14 loss at undefeated Barberton, the fact the Hornets were even in that situation was a shock to everyone in the SL.
In Rogers’ mind, there was nothing to be ashamed of.
“It was a good season,” he said. “If we don’t switch regions, we would have been in the playoffs.
“With the season we had and everyone saying we were going to go 5-5 with only (two full-time) starters, it felt good to prove everyone wrong.”
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