Courtesy of the SBC
Want an idea of how fearless New Mexico State quarterback Tyler Rogers is?
The Aggie senior challenged head football coach Doug Martin and strength coach Don Decker to a golf match just before the start of NM State’s fall practice, with the winner holding bragging rights for the entire season.
“Coach Martin is always talking smack and saying he’s a better golfer than me,” Rogers said, “but I know I can beat him. Coach Decker, he can drive it a country mile. But my driving’s pretty good.”
The Aggies’ starter at quarterback won’t be spending much time on the links over the next few months, but Martin, Decker and the rest of the New Mexico State family are all hoping that Rogers can drive the Aggies to a level of football success that has been fleeting over the past two decades.
The Peoria, Ariz., product is fully aware that the Aggies haven’t had a winning season since 2002 and have had only two winning seasons in those two decades – a 6-5 record in 1999 and 2002’s 7-5 mark.
NMSU went 2-10 last year and finished the season on a 10-game losing streak, in part due to a young defense that gave up 310 rushing yards and nearly 40 points per game.
“We had eight true freshmen that started some on defense last year,” Rogers said. “We knew we had to score almost every possession, and our offense is up to that challenge. We’re good enough to do that. Now we’ve all had an offseason to get bigger, faster, stronger and learn more. We’re ready to make some big moves.”
In a Sun Belt Conference that has been quarterback-heavy over the past few years, Rogers’ numbers match up well. In his first Division I year, he threw for 2,779 yards and 19 scores, hitting 61.5 percent of his passes, last season. But a total of 23 interceptions often derailed that offense.
“Tyler had flashes last year when he showed he could make plays,” Martin said at the Sun Belt’s Media Day. “His Achilles heel was turnovers, and he’s worked hard on that. Offensively, we have a chance if Tyler comes along like he did in the spring.”
“Last year my play didn’t really prove what I could do,” Rogers said. “But I’ve learned from my mistakes and I worked really hard this offseason. My first year of D-I football, the learning curve was longer than I’d hoped for, but I think I’ve made it now. I watched a lot of film and studied a lot more, and we’re getting a lot of extra work with the receivers now, running routes on our own.”
In the Aggies’ two biggest rivalry games last season, Rogers threw for 324 yards against UTEP, throwing for two scores and running for another, and 333 yards against New Mexico when he also accounted for three touchdowns. In the latter, his scoring pass to Joshua Bowen with 4:41 left capped a 14-play drive and gave NMSU a 35-31 lead, but their state rivals scored a winning touchdown with 27 seconds left.
“Those games are so much fun,” Rogers said. “Our fans get so excited about those rivalry games.”
The task for Rogers and his NMSU brethren is to generate that kind of excitement in the Sun Belt, in only the Aggies’ second year back in the league.
“That’s been an education process,” he said. “But our boosters and administration are doing a great job. That first home game, against Georgia State, it’s a conference game and it’s pretty much already sold out. I think the community’s really coming around to the fact that all the teams in the Sun Belt are pretty evenly matched and any given Saturday you can go out and get a win.
The Aggies held an early 14-0 lead over eventual Sun Belt champion Georgia Southern at mid-season last year before falling 36-28. In that game, Rogers completed 34-of-48 passes for 329 yards and led scoring drives of 80, 80 and 99 yards.
“There’s several very dynamic quarterbacks in the league,” Martin said, “but with the athletic ability he has, he (Rogers) is definitely among the top quarterbacks in the conference. He played his heart out in that Georgia Southern game, and getting him to do that on a consistent basis will make him a really top-level quarterback.”
One thing that’s definite: Rogers is much closer to elite-quarterback level than scratch-golfer level. But during those league Media Day activities, Rogers kept trying to sneak a look at the British Open’s weather-delayed Monday finish.
“To be honest, high 80’s, low 90’s,” Rogers said of his own game. “But I love it. I picked it up when I was about nine … I used to ride my bike with my clubs across the handlebars to the range and hit balls for hours on end. Sometimes I’ve thought about what kind of golfer I could have been if I’d committed my time there.”
By the way, the results of that pre-fall epic golf match haven’t been released.
“At least there, it’s no pressure at all,” Rogers said. “That’s the fun part. I know my second shot needs work, my short game needs work. But there’s really no time for that right now, it’s football season.”