Staff Photo by Jake Daniels / Chattanooga Times Free Press Vols wide receiver Da'Rick Rogers, No. 21, carries the ball down the sideline against UAB in September.
NASHVILLE -- On a cold Christmas day down in Calhoun, Ga., with three inches of snow covering the ground, Da'Rick Rogers layered up and ran sprints around his neighborhood's Cul-de-sac.
"I was trying to get used to the cold weather, and breathing in it," the University of Tennessee's freshman wide receiver said.
That approach might not mean much for Thursday's Music City Bowl, but that dedication might be very bad news for the Southeastern Conference in the near future.
At 6-foot-3 and 220 pounds, Rogers looks the part in pads. But he's also spent much of his freshman season acting like a typical freshman, and UT's senior receivers have been so productive that he hasn't made the instant impact some expected.
His 479 all-purpose yards and a touchdown certainly is not a poor freshman season in the SEC, but it's not anything near what Rogers had in mind.
"Every freshman wants to be freshman All-American, and all that kind of thing," Rogers said. "But I really just came in, worked with the program and found my role, and I just did what the coaches told me to do."
Rogers' potential has not escaped noticed in the last four months.
"Da'Rick, his talent is unmeasurable (sic), to be honest with you," senior tight end Luke Stocker said. "I mean, the sky's the limit for that kid. Once he gets his mind set that he wants to be a dominant player, he'll be one."
Senior wide receivers Gerald Jones and Denarius Moore, Rogers' mentors, concurred.
"His athleticism is through the roof," Moore said. "As far as him understanding what he can do, I don't think he even knows that yet. I think he hasn't pushed himself yet.
"But when he does, he's going to be a tremendous athlete."
Jones said Rogers is the only person that can put a ceiling on himself.
"He's big and fast and strong, and right now he's young, so it's raw talent," Jones said. "When he learns to mental game in it -- which will come with repetition -- he can be very scary."
UT defenders who must mark Rogers daily on the practice field know the kid's talents as much as anyone. They're not sure who's going to be able to guard him in the future.
"Yeah, he's a big guy, a physical guy," sophomore weakside linebacker Herman Lathers said. "He's just got to work on his attitude and his workability, but other than that, he's good."
Rogers knows the key to his future isn't the ball between his hands, but the brain between his ears. Physical skills have never been and probably won't ever be a problem, even at the sport's highest level.
Consistency, as it is with most young players, is the biggest question.
"Replacing G. Jones and Denarius Moore is, you know, it's crazy," Rogers said. "We're going to really have to work really, really hard in the offseason to replace those two."
After Jones leaves, the Vols will desperately need a reliable third-down target. Wide receivers coach Charlie Baggett -- who has coached roughly a dozen 1,000-yard NFL wide receivers -- admitted he has no clue who could fill that role next season.
"Guys that are good at that have experience at it, and some other guys just have a knack for it," Baggett said. "With Gerald gone, we're going to have to find a guy who can do that. I don't know if we have one on the team. I know Da'Rick has done it a little bit... because he's so big and strong that he can in there and out-muscle linebackers.
"I think we're going to have to find one next year. I hope out of the group we have coming in, and the group that we have coming back, that we'll be able to find one."
Rogers said he'd love any role next season that would be bigger than his part in this season, but the newfound, mature side of his personality added a major caveat -- he wants to earn any spot he gets.
Contact Wes Rucker at email@example.com or 865-851-9739.
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