From SPORTS ILLUSTRATED, September 22, 1980
AFTER AN 8-4 record last season, the most victories in South Carolina's history, the Gamecocks are 2-0 and crowing. The most important reason for this turnabout is tailback George Rogers. "First time he tucked the ball under his arm I knew he was something special," says coach Jim Carlen. Hurdling, whirling or just plain whooshing out of the option attack, Rogers has run for 100 yards or more in his last 12 games. His 1,681 yards in 1979 set a Gamecocks record and established him as the school's career leader in rushing.
As a kid Rogers seemed doomed to a life of grinding poverty. His father split from the family when George was six years old and was later convicted of murder. George's family lived in housing projects in one Georgia town after another, always one step ahead of the landlord. George hated the welfare rations and his clothes, which were little more than rags. He itched to play football, but students had to pay $2 for insurance, and George didn't have it.
When he was a teenager, things got worse. He lived in an Atlanta project with his mother, two brothers and two sisters—each of whom had a baby. Most of the kids his age were strung out on drugs, and often he would skip classes at Roosevelt High and lie about his age so he could weed fields or sweep warehouses for $1.80 an hour. His goal was to play football, but Roosevelt was a power, and George had hardly ever played. "I used to cry myself to sleep," he says, "but I never felt like giving up."
The turning point came when, just before his sophomore year, he moved in with Otella Rogers in Duluth, Ga. Her brother-in-law is Rogers's grandfather. Today Otella is 67 years old and practically blind, but mention of George brings life to her voice. "I told him if he wanted to be something, I'd help," she recalls. Otella taught George to fix his breakfast and do his own laundry. And she made absolutely sure that he went to school.
One week into football practice at Duluth, coach Cecil Morris took George aside, shook him and said, "Keep trying, son. You can be anything you want." In Duluth's third game the starting halfback broke a wrist. Rogers replaced him and ran for four touchdowns. The next year Rogers gained 2,300 yards, and Duluth romped to the Class AA championship. Rogers has been running wild ever since. "You know," he says, "for a kid brought up like me, football makes you or breaks you."