COOKEVILLE, Tenn. — When Da'Rick Rogers last walked out of Neyland Stadium, he had no idea what was coming next.
The start of his junior season at Tennessee was less than two weeks away, and the controversial receiver just had finished the annual August media day with an interview that ranged from his tumultuous offseason and increased preseason focus to a nickname for the Volunteers' talented receiver trio and the team's new white shoes.
Eight days and a blindside hit later, he was looking for a place to restart his career.
"It all happened so fast," he said Thursday afternoon following practice with his new team at Tennessee Tech. "One week I'm preparing for one team and getting ready for a game, and we're doing media day and everything. Later that week, bam.
"You're in a new program learning a whole new offense and game-planning for a whole new conference."
The "bam" was Rogers' dismissal from Tennessee, a day some believed was inevitable. He's since acknowledged that multiple failed drug tests are what ended his career in orange, an up-and-down journey that this summer appeared finally to have leveled out. Rogers was coming off an All-Southeastern Conference season in 2011 and primed for a huge season playing with quarterback Tyler Bray and receivers Justin Hunter and Cordarrelle Patterson.
In a flash, it was all gone.
"It's all behind me, that's really what it was," Rogers said after declining to go into further detail about the drug tests. "It was something that had happened, and you've got to move on. Everything happens for a reason, and it happened.
"I've got to learn from it and become better because of it."
In the quiet town of Cookeville roughly 100 miles west on Interstate 40, Rogers is trying to do exactly that. In Tennessee Tech quarterback Tre Lamb and tailback Adam Urbano, two of his former teammates at Calhoun (Ga.) High School, Rogers found a connection.
Hal Lamb, Calhoun's coach and Tre's father, called Tech coach Watson Brown on Rogers' behalf and set up a meeting.
"I talked to my seniors about it first before Da'Rick came down," Brown said. "'What do you guys think?' Everybody was OK with it, and we brought him down and met with his mom and friends and all those people.
"That's kind of how it all happened. It happened quickly. He was here in three days' time."
Brown coached Rice and Vanderbilt in the 1980s and spent 12 seasons at UAB before coming to Cookeville in 2007. His program typically doesn't take transfers, unlike most other Ohio Valley Conference schools. The four Bowl Subdivision transfers -- Rogers and one each from Kentucky, Louisville and Illinois — all have high school teammates playing for the Golden Eagles.
Like any scenario involving an SEC-level player transferring down to the Championship Subdivision for disciplinary seasons, Brown had to weigh the risk and the reward.
"We're not a transfer school here," he said. "This league is a transfer league. Our league is loaded with them. That's not us. I think that's why everybody looked at us like, 'Why is he coming here?' But there was a lot of insight to this."
These situations often don't work out. Former Tennessee safety Janzen Jackson, like Rogers a five-star recruit out of high school, made 29 tackles with two interceptions in nine games at McNeese State and went undrafted in April. After rushing for 1,082 yards in his first season at Jacksonville State — Tennessee Tech's opponent Saturday -- former Georgia tailback Washaun Ealey was arrested for marijuana possession and suspended against UT-Chattanooga.
Yet Brown, who said he never spoke with Tennessee coach Derek Dooley about Rogers, made it very clear to Rogers that there were things he needed to do to join and remain in his program, and the 62-year-old said Rogers told him he'd made some mistakes and needed to grow up and mature.
"He and I have an agreement for him to come here, things that I'm doing with him basically myself, and he's been perfect off the field," Brown said. "He's gone to class. He's doing what he's supposed to do, and it's been fantastic.
"We've not had one issue with Da'Rick whatsoever, and I think he's trying his best to mature. I'm not going to tell you what we're doing, but there's some things in place that we both agreed to before he came here. That's between he and I."
On the field, Rogers is playing like the talented receiver he showed in his two seasons at Tennessee. The 6-foot-3, 205-pounder, who was in the best physical shape of his career this preseason, caught five touchdown passes in the Golden Eagles' first four games. He made a slick move on a screen pass for a touchdown against Oregon and blew up for 18 catches, 303 yards and two touchdowns against Southeast Missouri State.
As good as he's been on the field, Rogers credited his growing relationship with Brown as helping him stay the course.
"I felt like he was a character coach," Rogers said. "I go in every week, and we have conversations. Just the other day, we had an hour-and-a-half long conversation right before practice.
"Our relationship's been good, and we have an understanding of what needs to be done and how he can help me and how I can help him and the whole team itself."
Brown said Rogers is a "sharp kid" and admitted his young receiving corps needed help. The quick turnaround caused Rogers to doubt his own confidence a little bit, but cramming with Tre Lamb in the brief time between his arrival and his debut helped him adapt quickly. He likes the smaller stage, where every move and tweet isn't so highly scrutinized.
"It's a little different," he said. "The school's not as big, but in a sense that's not necessarily a bad thing. You can really focus on ball, but everybody here's been welcoming since the day I got here as far as the team, the coaches, the students and teachers across campus.
"With what happened, it wouldn't be bad to disappear for a minute as far as being on the bright scene and really come back out when you're ready to come back out when the time is ready."
Rogers said he still watches his former team when he can. He spent Tech's bus ride to Murray State last week watching the first half of the Tennessee-Georgia game. He said he regularly speaks with Bray, Hunter and tailback Rajion Neal.
Rogers even went to Knoxville when the Vols hosted Georgia State, but he didn't attend the game. He said he still wishes he could be a part of the "explosive" Tennessee offense about which he always talked. Yet Rogers said he reflects positively on his Tennessee career despite some of the off-field troubles he didn't deny and the "hurt" of it ending.
"Some of the stuff happens just like at any other program," he said. "Things are blown out of proportion, but that just comes with the territory. It's good with the bad, and you've just got to learn how to roll with the punches.
"You always want to stay at the program that you first got [to]. Having to pick up and move and create a whole new persona at a whole new school with the persona you're bringing there with you, that's the biggest thing. [It hurt] having to pick up and leave and leave what we had going and what I thought we were going to have going into the season."
The most likely next step for Rogers is declaring for the NFL draft, though he's not ready to say that.
"I'm still contemplating on it," he said. "But right now I'm focusing on week to week on the games we have to play. Once the season's over, I'll sit down with my family and close friends, and we'll make those decisions."
If Rogers continues making the kinds of decisions Brown and others at Tennessee Tech say he is, a bad story might end well for Rogers. Red flags or no red flags, his talent is hard to ignore. Simply continuing to produce and staying on his current path might be the best way for Rogers to prove his Tennessee troubles are behind him.
"You never would want for one of these type things to happen where you have to transfer to another school," he said. "You always want to stay at the first school you choose, but like I said, everything happens for a reason. You've just got to make the best of it and come out on top."
Patrick Brown has been the University of Tennessee beat writer since January 2011. A native of Memphis, Brown graduated from UT in May of 2010 with a bachelor’s degree in Journalism/Electronic Media and worked at the Knoxville News Sentinel for two years on the sports editorial staff and as a freelance contributor. If it’s the NBA, the NFL or SEC football and basketball, he’s probably reading about it or watching it on TV. Contact him ...
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