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From SPORTS ILLUSTRATED, September 22, 1980
HERE WE GO, FOLKS. South Carolina on the Wichita State 14 and look out for George Rogers, the Gamecocks' bruising tailback. There he goes, off tackle, to the 10—carrying the noseguard on his shoulders and a safety around his hips. At the 10 another four defenders pile on top of Rogers, and he hauls the whole mob scene down to the seven, the six, the five. The Gamecocks score. Now South Carolina is on its 45, and Rogers is sweeping the right side. A cornerback comes up fast; surely Rogers will steamroll him. But no. This time he cuts left, glides through a hole and turns upfield. With a tidy little hip fake he drops the noseguard, and then he goes into overdrive to outsprint a safety he outweighs by 40 pounds. Boffo, touchdown! Here we go again—Carolina's on the Wichita two. And where's Rogers? Handling a pitch off the option. Touchdown!
And so it went last Saturday night as South Carolina jolted the Shockers 73--0. When it was over Gamecocks assistant Harold White stood at midfield conversing with Wichita State's head coach, Willie Jeffries, and White must have been talking about chins. "Keep it up," he said. "Just keep it up." Meanwhile South Carolina coach Jim Carlen had used all of his 89 healthy players and had summoned a 90th Gamecock out of the stands to suit up and check in. The victory set modern-day South Carolina records for points scored and widest margin. Carolina also had more touchdowns (10) than Wichita State had first downs (six). The Gamecocks had 430 yards rushing to Wichita's 76. No, it wasn't pretty.
Nor was it truly a showcase for Rogers. In the second quarter he carried the ball only twice. In the second half he didn't play a down. By the fourth quarter Rogers was so far out of the action that he could be seen on the sideline with his arms around a couple of honeys, having his picture taken.
All of which is too bad, because Rogers should be shown off. He is precisely 6' 1¾" and weighs 224 pounds. He can run the 40 in 4.5 seconds. Yet, except around Columbia, S.C., he is virtually unknown. After a turnaround 8--4 record last season, tied for the most victories in South Carolina's history, the Gamecocks were 2--0 at the end of Saturday's game and crowing.
There are several reasons for South Carolina's surprising turnabout, but the most important is Rogers. "First day, first practice, first time he tucked the ball under his arm, I knew George Rogers was something special," says Carlen. Hurdling, whirling or just plain whooshing out of the Gamecocks' option attack, Rogers has run for 100 yards or more in his last 12 games. His 1,681 yards last season set a South Carolina record and also established him as the school's career rushing leader. It also made him the nation's second-most productive runner, behind Heisman Trophy winner Charles White. Twice Rogers has rushed for more than 200 yards in a game, against Wake Forest in 1978 (237 yards) and at North Carolina State last year (217). Still, in last year's Heisman vote he finished a distant seventh. And during his career South Carolina has not played on network television.
If necessary, Rogers carries the ball 25 to 30 times a game, but his totals are impressive even when he gets far less work. Against Wichita State, Rogers ran for 108 yards on only 10 carries. In South Carolina's 37--0 thrashing of Pacific the week before, Rogers exploded for touchdown runs of 44 and 72 yards. The latter came on the second play of the second half. It was also Rogers's last carry. For the game he rang up 153 yards on just 13 carries.
"I'll tell you about George Rogers," says John Ralston, administrative vice president of the San Francisco 49ers. "I've assigned me to go to Los Angeles next week to scout him. We project Rogers to go in the first five of the first round of the NFL draft." Philadelphia Eagles player-personnel director Carl Peterson agrees. "According to BLESTO, the NFL scouting combine, Rogers is the highest-rated back in the country," he says. "He doesn't have a lot of wiggle," says Eagles scout Jackie Graves, "but he can make you miss." South Carolina backfield coach Bob Brown puts it simply: "There are a lot of big backs and a lot of quick backs. But very seldom do you see a big, quick back. George's talent is two things: awesome and God-given."
But Rogers's achievements on a football field are not the most uplifting part of his story. As a kid he seemed doomed to a life of grinding poverty. His father split from the family when George was six years old, was later convicted of murdering a woman he lived with and is now a trusty in the Buford, Ga., city jail. George's family lived in housing projects in one Georgia town after another—Duluth, Norcross, Oglethorpe, Scottsdale, Dorville, Decatur, East Lake Meadows, Englewood—always one step ahead of the landlord. George hated the welfare rations and his clothes, which were little more than rags. The neighborhood kids taunted him; they called him Dirty Boy. Oh, 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 a cramped Atlanta project with his mother, two brothers and two teenage sisters—each of whom had a baby. The babies cried a lot. Most of his friends were strung out on drugs. Not marijuana or cocaine. Too expensive. They would spray paint into a plastic bag and inhale it deeply. "Then they'd just act weird," Rogers says. He was an outcast. "Many a night I was run home by some group," he says. Often he would skip classes at Roosevelt High, thumb downtown and falsify his age so he could sign on with the Peakload Labor Pool and weed fields or sweep out warehouses for $1.80 an hour. His goal was to play football, but Roosevelt was a power, a Class AAAA biggie, and George had hardly ever played.