MOULTRIE – Justin Rogers knows the challenges ahead. He’s telling the Colquitt County High football players who will make up his first Packer roster – the ones he just met on Tuesday – that, yes, there are people who want to see them crumble. Those people make up the 10 teams they play starting on Aug. 24.
Rogers is also thankful to be the one to help these youngsters – some of whom were a part of two state finalist teams – get some stability in their leadership after two – to put it mildly – tough months.
On Monday, the Colquitt County Board of Education approved Rogers as the new Packer head football coach. Rogers, an Alabama native, brings five years head coaching experience from Jones County High in the middle Georgia town of Gray. He’s been part of a high-scoring undefeated state championship winner at Griffin High. That was in 2013, and it opened up that first head coaching job with the Greyhounds in a place where they “hoped” to win in football.
Rogers knows the expectations are beyond hope in Moultrie. He’s also familiar with the way football’s been played here and how the program won two state titles undefeated in 2014-15 in addition to reaching the Class 7A finals the last two seasons.
Up-tempo isn’t just the way Rogers likes to play football. He is up-tempo. That’s what he’s had to be getting this new job so close to spring practice and knowing there would be a figurative – perhaps even literal – line out to the street of people wanting to get in a word or two.
“Obviously it was an exciting night Monday night,” said Rogers. “We got the phone call in Gray getting approved. The whirlwind definitely started. Tuesday we met with (the Jones County) football team at 8 o’clock and talked to them, wished them well, told them how much I loved them. Then I hit the road coming down here.”
Only two of Jones County’s 10-win seasons in football were under Rogers in 2014 and 2017. He starts his Packer career with a 45-15 record.
“(Tuesday) we met with all the staff individually, getting to know them. I’ve met with the players, shared my vision, what I believe in and who I am. Gathered a lot of info. Tried to get the lay of the land. So much here is so good, the structure and things.”
Let’s get to the vision and beliefs.
“The biggest thing about me is I’m a relationship guy,” said Rogers. “I believe in building young men. I understand that our responsibility is to try to raise men who can be successful in life after sports. We have to invest in their life, their character and their culture. I’m a big leadership, motivational guy. Read a lot of books on that.
“After that, I’m a tempo, high-energy, high-excitement guy. I like to be involved … and part of the process of growing. Offensively we are going to be fast-paced, up-tempo, multi-personnel, very similar to what you’ve been doing. I’ve known (former offensive coordinator Jeff Hammond) for a while. We do a lot of things similar. The biggest thing is verbiage and terminology. We will maintain that odd defense and be attacking, bring pressure in different areas.”
Rogers’ hometown is Greenville, Ala., just south of Montgomery. He attended Troy State University, the same Troy State where he will get his first taste of game action at a spring scrimmage showcase on May 18.
“I knew I wanted to be a high school football coach,” said Rogers, adding that he felt Georgia was the place to do it. His first job in 2002 was at Harris County High, which was rebuilding, he and established himself for seven years. He was hired as offensive coordinator by Griffin in 2009.
“We had good kids who bought in,” said Rogers about winning state with the Bears. “They were a lot of fun to be around.”
People in Jones County, though, may first talk about its baseball heritage.
“Every now and then they would make the (football) playoffs, and that was a big deal,” said Rogers. “We had to change the culture. Jones always told people they hoped they won. But they didn’t expect to win.
“Here, that’s not the case. The expectation and culture is here. It’s maintain and understand the process of maximizing our ability, making sure we do everything we can to be as good as we possibly can. It’s a different walk-in, but it’s still developing men and coaching football.”
The first week is done with a lot of introductions, probably some paperwork, learning roads, etc. Up next, Rogers said he needs to finalize a coaching staff, filling the holes where some have left the school. He’s also making out the summer plans.
“We’ll start spring football (May 1),” he said. They are playing a school from Meridian, Miss., in that Troy State showcase that will actually cover four days. The Packers will be in the finale Saturday night.
Rogers will then implement a Monday through Thursday plan for the summer with lifting, agilities and practice. He’s looking at possible OTA and shoulder-pad camp arrangements, and the 7-on-7 schedule is about set.
That’s what he wants to do with the Packers, and his eyes widened when it’s mentioned where they will do it.
“It’s very well designed,” said Rogers about the 100-yard indoor building and the weight room and everything else. “It’s going to be a joy to come in and put hours in.”
Colquitt County football certainly earned the reputation for its conditioning program. Rogers himself was both Griffin’s and Jones County’s strength coach for nine total years.
“I will be in the weight room every single day,” he said. “Not only is it important in building strength and athleticism and explosive movements, it’s also important to build your culture and character. We will have all our coaches in there, but I place a big premium on it.”
Saving perhaps the most important point for last, there’s the emphasis on academics for the student-athletes and recruiting for the coaches. Not only does Rogers want Packers to be recruited, but he said it’s their job to make them “recruitable.”
“We have to make sure our (grade-point averages) are up, and understand that’s our core GPA,” said Rogers. “It’s not just making an A in P.E., it’s making sure in our core academic subjects we’re pulling some B’s and getting eligible.”
That wasn’t the last point. That is Rogers’ No. 1 challenge in his mind.
“The biggest thing right now is being able to rally the troops and get everything towards a common goal,” he said. “It’s been a tough couple of months for these boys. These kids have been wondering what direction they’re going, why doesn’t anybody want to be here. The biggest thing is getting them to understand that now we have a direction, so now let’s buy in, come together and start working on that goal.
“I told them, ‘Everybody in this state would love to see you crumble. The people who are pulling for you are right here in this community,’” said Rogers. “‘They are the ones who want to make sure this thing continues. The rest of this state would love nothing more than to see you implode. Atlanta. Your region opponents. That’s why right here in this moment we have to rally hard together. We are all we got, but we are all we need.’”