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December 18, 2008

Oregon State's Rodgers has banner season

The best freshmen: All-America Team | ACC | Big 12 | Big East | Big Ten | Pac-10 | SEC

As fans watched a 5-foot-7 freshman tailback gash USC's highly touted defense, there were folks in the Houston suburb of Richmond who weren't the least bit surprised.

A lot of people in the hometown of Oregon State's Jacquizz Rodgers saw his breakout coming.

Lydell Wilson, who coached Rodgers at Lamar Consolidated High, had seen this type of grinding performance before.

"I watched every play [in the USC game]," Wilson said. "It looked like one of our high school games all over again. The only difference was that he'd usually break off a 50- or 60-yard run, where in this game it was consistent 9, 12, 15 yards."

Despite only four carries in the final two games of the season, Rodgers rushed for a Pac-10 freshman record 1,253 yards and was the first freshman to be named the conference offensive player of the year. Oregon State was one of the nation's surprise teams, going 7-2 in the Pac-10 and earning a Sun Bowl berth. For those accomplishments, Rivals.com named Rodgers its National Freshman of the Year.

Lamar Consolidated quarterback D.J. Smallwood heard directly from Rodgers that he would rush for 200 yards against USC.

"I always talk to him before a game," Rodgers said. "I told him, 'Just watch this.' I talked to him cocky. I was serious. That's something you live for."

Rodgers didn't rush for 200 yards, but he came close. He ran 37 times for 186 yards and two touchdowns against USC in one of this season's signature performances. It was the first of six consecutive Pac-10 wins for the Beavers. Oregon State wasn't eliminated from the Rose Bowl until a 65-38 loss to Oregon in the last game of the regular season, a game Rodgers missed with a shoulder injury.

At the start of the season, Oregon State was looking for a tailback. The second-leading rusher in school history, Yvenson Bernard, had graduated, and no returning Oregon State back had played in a college game. Coach Mike Riley expected Rodgers to compete at tailback but not necessarily get the bulk of the carries.

But Riley quickly learned what Lamar Consolidated coaches already knew: Rodgers would force his way into being the feature back.

In high school, Rodgers set the Texas state record with 136 touchdowns and rushed for 8,245 career yards. "When you look at him, he's about a 6-1 body smashed into a 5-7 frame," Wilson said.

Riley figured that out early in practice. During a scrimmage in fall camp, Rodgers took a screen pass 60 yards for a touchdown against the starting defense. A few plays later, he took a draw for another 60-yard touchdown.

By the second game of the season, Riley couldn't keep the ball out of his hands. Rodgers started in the 45-14 loss to Penn State, rushing for 99 yards and two touchdowns. He would carry the ball at least 25 times in six of the next eight games.

"What I tell people is that Quizz is not small, he's short," Riley said. "He is really, really strong and very quick, and has good speed and has that innate ability that great running backs do in being able to see the hole. He has great vision. He has the ability to run around you or run over you. He combines that really well."

Although Rodgers helped keep Oregon State near the top of the Pac-10 this season, he wasn't the first Rodgers on the Beavers' radar.

Before landing Jacquizz, Oregon State signed his brother James in 2007. The Beavers received a tip about James Rodgers from a coaching colleague, and offensive coordinator Danny Langsdorf flew to Texas to give James his second scholarship offer; the other one was from Texas State, a FCS (i.e. Division I-AA) school.

Lamar Consolidated coaches accused Oregon State of recruiting James to get Jacquizz, which baffled Beavers coaches. "We didn't even know," Riley said. "That's the beauty of it. We were truly after James."

James Rodgers has been a valuable player in his own right. He's listed as a wide receiver, but does most of his damage in the running game, on the fly sweep. He has rushed for 994 yards and eight touchdowns and also has 815 receiving yards in his first two season at Oregon State.

After James signed, Oregon State began recruiting Jacquizz. Oregon State coaches took nothing for granted in recruiting the younger brother.

"People think I came for my brother, but that wasn't the only reason," Rodgers said. "They showed a lot of interest from the beginning of recruiting. Most teams tried to [recruit me] late."

When he arrived on campus, Rodgers made sure he wouldn't be overlooked. Oregon State typically redshirts its freshmen, and Rogers was one of only four true freshmen to play for the Beavers this season.

"I told them when he left here, he's going to make you play him and by his second or third year he's going to be a Heisman candidate," Wilson said. "That came true this year.

"It didn't surprise me at all."

David Fox is a national writer for Rivals.com and Yahoo! Sports. He can be reached at dfox@rivals.com.

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