By Jeremy Stafford
WINCHESTER -- Larry Gibbs knew. So did Paul Barnes.
With the number of plays Shenandoah linebacker Joshua Rogers made in preseason camp, Shenandoah's free safety and head coach knew Rogers would likely improve upon an already solid linebacker corps.
It was simply a matter of when everyone else would figure it out.
"He's just a smooth athlete as far as linebackers go," Gibbs said of Rogers. "He's real instinctive, and it wasn't out of the blue for me, and I don't think the coaches thought he was out of the blue, either.
"We always knew he was gonna be pretty daggone good."
Rogers, a freshman, sat out Shenandoah's (2-4, 2-1 USA South) season opener against Catholic. He first saw time at Bridgewater, where he had six tackles. At Randolph-Macon he had another six tackles, including 1.5 tackles for a loss.
Then came the Christopher Newport game, his breakout game, the game when everyone else figured out Rogers needs to be accounted for.
Against the Captains, Rogers had seven tackles, 2.5 for a loss, and in doing so, drew the undivided attention of the CNU fullbacks for the entire second half. That week Rogers made the D3football.com Team of the Week.
Rogers recorded another 12 tackles at Maryville, and last week against Methodist he had a season-high 13 tackles.
The latter performance earned him recognition as the USA South Conference Defensive Rookie of the Week.
"I was very surprised by everything that I had," Rogers said of the awards he's already accumulated. "I don't strive for anything, I just go out and play."
This is how Rogers plays football: Patiently.
With patience he reads the offense; with patience he diagnoses the play as it unfolds; with patience he deduces where the ball is heading.
And with a quick first step he pounds toward the ball.
"He's very patient as a linebacker and he seeks things out ... he can focus and get to where he needs to be," Barnes said. "He's a very good linebacker, and if he continues on this pace he'll be one of the better linebackers that we've ever had here."
And who can say when or where Rogers developed his uncanny talent to disrupt. Maybe he learned it during his sophomore year at Salem (Virginia Beach), when he played behind Lyndell Gibson, now a linebacker at Virginia Tech.
To get an idea of how talented Gibson is: In seven starts for the Hokies he has 33 tackles and two sacks.
But perhaps Rogers found his tenacity when -- because he couldn't play linebacker, what with Gibson doing such a splendid job there -- he started at defensive end his sophomore year.
Defensive ends, after all, have to be tenacious, they have to disrupt.
But however Rogers learned to play football, he screamed potential when he came to Shenandoah's preseason camp. Rumors swirled that he'd play JV football, so Rogers made enough plays during camp to make varsity.
He was still making plays in the practices leading up to the Catholic game, and he made even more plays the following week -- enough to catch the attention of SU defensive coordinator Brock McCullough before the Bridgewater game.
That game against CNU, though, was both a blessing and a curse for Rogers. Until that point in the season it was his most involved game, and he led the Hornets with 2.5 tackles for a loss. But when the Captains started throwing fullbacks Miles Ailstock and Steel Driskill at him, Rogers started falling back to old habits, habits that earned him All-Beach District honors in high school, but had little use against Christopher Newport.
To make matters worse, senior linebacker John Redmond busted his knee toward the end of the game. With Redmond out, Sean Purcell started against Maryville, and Rogers started against Methodist. In five games, and with only one start, Rogers is already second on the team with 44 tackles. His 21 solo tackles are third most on the team, and his six tackles for a loss are fourth most.
Chalk his performance up to his patience; a patience the entire Shenandoah defense will need for today's 1 p.m. game at Ferrum (2-4, 2-1 USA South).
The Panthers' option offense has them ranked second in the USA South in scoring offense (25.2 points) and second in rushing offense (174.5 yards).
Maryville and Methodist gave Rogers and the SU defense a taste of the option, and for the most part, Shenandoah played well against it.
Gibbs said SU has the discipline to stop Ferrum's option; Rogers said SU has the smarts to stop it.
"I think it's the speed and the IQ of the defense," Rogers said. "We're very smart, we're not over-aggressive, but when we see the play and we diagnose it, we're aggressive to it.
"We're just an overall good defense."