Former Mustang football player experiencing NFL

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Justin Rogers (40) makes a tackle in a 2006 game. (John Schreiber)

Justin Rogers had a full career playing defensive end at SMU that included team MVP honors and a place on the Texas team in the Texas vs. The Nation All-Star Bowl following his senior season.

SMU doesn’t have a history of sending many players to the NFL. That changed this April when the New England Patriots selected Rogers in the sixth round of the NFL draft.

“I was with him and his family on draft day along with my mom,” teammate Joe Sturdivant said. “I was really happy for him. It was a very exciting time and I was happy to be a part of that.”

Rogers led the team in sacks his junior and senior seasons, even though his senior season was abbreviated because of a neck injury. During his senior season he also forced two fumbles after forcing three in his junior year. It was his final two seasons at SMU that put Rogers on the national map.

“He just had the temperament of a football player,” former head coach Phil Bennett said. “As a junior and a senior he was just a great player.”

Rogers sat out his first season at SMU, using his redshirt season to preserve his four years of eligibility. That decision meant that he would play all four seasons with fellow defensive standout, Sturdivant.

“Even though he was a year above me and a year older, it was great to have someone like that to play all four years with,” Sturdivant said.

Rogers anchored an experienced defensive line during his senior year, leading fellow seniors Adrian Haywood and Brandon Bonds, along with junior Cory Muse. Before the 2007 season started, Muse said that he would use Rogers’ leadership example when dealing with leading a young defensive line.

Rogers took advantage of the opportunity that New England presented to him, gaining valuable experience in his first NFL endeavor.

Playing in all of the Patriots’ pre-season games, Rogers made an impact and showed a smooth transition from his collegiate position of defensive line to his new linebacker position. Rogers collected nine tackles and 1.5 sacks.

“He can run,” SMU defensive coordinator Jim Gush said. “He played defensive end for us, but can make that adjustment [to linebacker] in the NFL.”

But New England would have been a tough fit for Rogers. With veteran players like Junior Seau and Tedy Bruschi along with other experienced players at the linebacker position, there wasn’t a place for the inexperienced rookie Rogers.

When it was apparent that he was going to be put on waivers, Sturdivant said that Rogers was upset. But Sturdivant, along with others, assured him that his pre-season performance would help him find a spot on another team.

That other team would bring Rogers close to home. The Greenville native would return to Texas, when the Dallas Cowboys signed Rogers to a contract.

Rogers joined another one of Bennett’s former players when he came to the Cowboys. In the 2002 NFL Draft, the Cowboys selected cornerback Terence Newman from Kansas State. Newman played at KSU when Bennett was there as the defensive coordinator.

With the Cowboys, Rogers has spent his time on the field with special teams, covering kickoffs and punts. This wasn’t a surprise to Bennett.

“He has always been athletic enough to play special teams,” Bennett said. Rogers was just more important as a strictly defensive player to put him on special teams, Bennett continued.

Rogers has seen playing time in all of the Cowboys’ games and has collected 13 tackles, eight solo and five assisted. According to Sturdivant, Rogers is the kind of player any teammate would want to join on the field.

“When we were on the field together I knew there was another warrior on the field with me,” Sturdivant said. “That was our mentality when we played.”

Rogers has kept that mentality as he has moved on from the collegiate level to the professional level.

“He’s a tough guy,” Gush said. “That’s what he brought to our team.”

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