By Larry VaughtFive-star defensive lineman Justin Rogers is the highest rated recruit — he’s a top 20 player nationally — that coach Mark Stoops has signed at UK but he doesn’t want fans thinking he has a superstar mentality.
“If you do see me, just come up to me and talk to me. Don’t be shy and not come up to me,” said Rogers. “I am fan friendly. Come up to me any time and I will talk to you.
“I love interacting with fans. They cane come and get photo or I will sign anything. That is my personality. I am friendly person. People think I am this big, mean guy but I am friendly.”
Or at least off the field the 6-3, 310-pound Oak Park, Mich., standout is. On the field, he’s so dynamic that Alabama, Georgia, Ohio State, Michigan State, Michigan and Tennessee were his other potential college choice after he narrowed down his big list of offers. However, his first scholarship offer came from Kentucky when he was in the eighth grade and he never forgot that.
Stoops says he’s a special player but also a special person.
“Every time we see him, whether he’s on campus or when I got a chance to go visit him, he’s one of those guys that puts a smile on your face; he affects other people in such a positive way,” Stoops said. “For such a highly ranked player, he was a joy to recruit. And it says a lot about him and his character.”
Once Rogers finished his high school classes he offered to do media interviews. Someone on Twitter suggested he just do a Zoom conference rather than have to do individual interviews.
“That’s not fair to them. They deserve to each have the own individual quality time with me to really get to know me and that is the same way I feel about getting to know each interviewer,” Rogers replied on Twitter. “I want to build a REAL relationship with each one.”
After I reached out to him, he told me when he would call in a few days and he called at exactly the time he said he would.
“That’s just the way I was raised,” he said when I complimented him for being so prompt.
Almost as soon as Rogers verbally committed in mid-May of 2019 — seven months before national signing day — speculation started nationally that he would eventually flip to a more traditional football power like Alabama or Georgia if he did leave the state. Instead, he never wavered in his commitment to UK.
“I didn’t really pay attention to all that speculation. I knew where my head was in my commitment,” Rogers said. “Me and the (UK) coaches built a bond. It was already family for real. I was eager to commit because I felt comfortable with everybody there.”
It didn’t hurt that former Oak Park teammate Marquan McCall was already at UK or that linebacker DeAndre Square of Detroit was, too.
“It was just the right fit, so I jumped the gun and committed,” Rogers said. “People were telling me congratulations but also that I might have done it too early but I felt it was the right time. I am ready to go hop on the field now, lace up the cleats and go to work.”
Rogers was that rare high school player who dominated both the offensive and defensive line play. He was considered a better collegiate offensive line prospect by many but the more he heard that, the more determined he was to play defense.
“People were telling me I won’t be that good on defense even in high school, that it’s not a good fit,” he said. “I had to prove to everybody I could play defense and make my mark. I did great and shocked people.
“I love playing both sides of the ball. I can play anywhere. I even played linebacker a couple of games. I just love the game and have for as long as I can remember. That’s why I just played football and nothing else.”
Rogers can remember how happy he was when college coaches started watching him play and never felt the recruiting process was a burden despite the enormous amount of scholarship offers he had.
“Recruiting was hard but for me it was like letting a little kid in the candy store,” Rogers said. “It was so hard to pick the right school but I just felt Kentucky was right. It felt like home and my mom was definitely on board with Kentucky. She loved it when she went down there.”
Rogers, who has been timed in 4.9 seconds in the 40-yard dash, would like to have his weight at 300 pounds when the season starts and knows first-year defensive line coach Anwar Stewart will push to get him there.
“Coach Stewart is a great guy, but he is definitely a character. I can’t wait for him to coach me,” Rogers said. “I am definitely expecting to come in and play. I have a hunger for the game. I want to learn the playbook, make plays and bust my butt for the team.”
Rogers knows UK coaches and fans have seen his highlights but believes seeing him play in person will show a lot more about what he can do.
“I can read the offensive tackle and his body movement. I know what an offensive player will do before he does it,” he said. “I can definitely knock people around if I need to but I can also just beat people off the ball.”
Rogers says he’s done all he can to maintain his fitness but knows he will be “sluggish” when he’s finally allowed to report to UK.
“You can run, jog, do pushups but it will still all be at a different level when I get to Kentucky,” Rogers said. “Still, I’m ready. I can’t wait to get to Lexington. I really liked the downtown area when I was there before. Just walking around, people were so friendly. And I like friendly people because that is how I am.”