Mr. Rogers' New Neighborhood
Nov. 3, 2000
by Rosie Leutzinger
Matt Rogers is a great quote waiting to happen. It is a shame that Husky fans and media have just one season to appreciate the Husky senior offensive lineman's wit.
Rogers' journey begins in the California sunshine, makes a brief stop in the cornfields of Iowa, and ends, at least for now, in the wet and beautiful Northwest. It is a journey full of paradox, both strange and fun -- a journey eloquently parallel to Rogers' personality.
At first glance, the 6-5, 290-pound Rogers is intimidating. The thick goatee that surrounds his naturally turned down mouth gives the appearance of an intimidating frown, masking his easy smile and willingness to talk about anything, from his secret liking of "Beverly Hills, 90210," to his days in 1996-98 as an All-American junior-college football player in California, being recruited by some of the top programs in the nation.
"Tom Verducci was the offensive line coach at Iowa," he recalls. "A lot of coaches will tell you what you want to hear, but Coach Verducci was very up front and honest with my parents. He came all the way to my house in California from Iowa and talked to us. When I went over there, he really took care of me."
When Verducci and his staff left Iowa at the end of the1998 season, Rogers was left contemplating his future with coaches other than those who convinced Rogers to come to Iowa in the first place.
Enter Husky coach Rick Neuheisel and his staff, whom Rogers says reminded him of the original staff he was recruited by at Iowa. During the summer, Rogers was convinced by Neuheisel to spend his last year of eligibility at Washington, and he and his father set off on the long journey from Iowa to Seattle.
"My dad drove the whole way while I just slept in the back," Rogers recalled. "The only time I would wake up was for a McDonald's Big Mac. My dad would just yell, `Wake up! We're at McDonalds!"
Plagued by bad timing, Rogers arrived just as Washington completed two-a-day fall workouts.
"When I first got here the guys hated me," Rogers said. "I had just got off the truck after my dad and I had driven out here and they were in the last two days of practice. They were all tired and mad at the world and I showed up with a polo shirt, jean shorts, sandals, a visor on backwards and my hair gelled. They were all looking at me like `who is this guy?'"
The feeling did not last long. Once Husky players saw the ruthless sense of humor Rogers brought along with that Californian-lost-in-Iowa look, they were quick to accept him.
It didn't hurt that Rogers had joined a group virtually impossible not to like. The Husky offensive linemen, including six seniors, are a group to whom Rogers has grown close.
"It's great that we are all going out together, the six seniors, but we're all looking forward to opportunities later on down the road, too," he said. "Once you get to know people, you realize that you have a lot in common with them.
"Dominic Daste and I really have a lot of the same goals," Rogers continued. "Since we're also from the same hometown, he and I have thought about getting into coaching together. I told him I might let him be my offensive line coach."
Though he has yet to crack a veteran starting lineup of offensive linemen that includes many NFL prospects, Rogers has had his share of opportunities on the Huskies kickoff return team, known as "the wedge."
"My job is to set the wedge, make sure our returner catches the ball and then go run as hard as I can and cream the first little120-pound guy I see," he says. "A lot of guys would be mad about being on the wedge, but I take a lot of pride in it," Rogers said. "I was really happy to be picked to be on the wedge."
Sometime this winter, Rogers will continue on the journey that has brought him from California, to Iowa, to Seattle, and on to a promising future. Rogers will don his polo shirt, sandals, jean shorts and visor, and face the next leg of his trip the way he has all of the others -- with a smile.