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Cats hope patience pays off with Rogers

Justin Rogers spoke with the media after Thursday's practice.
Justin Rogers spoke with the media after Thursday's practice. (Jeff Drummond/Cats Illustrated)

Even the most heralded football prospects experience a bit of culture shock when they make the transition from high school to the college level.

Such was the case for Justin Rogers, the crown jewel of Kentucky's 2020 recruiting class and a rare five-star prospect who made his way to Lexington.

The 6-foot-3, 328-pound defensive tackle got a handful of snaps as a freshman with the Wildcats but may not have played as much as he -- or Big Blue Nation -- expected a signee of his stature would play.

It was a different world, though, the Oak Park, Mich., native admitted.

"The game... the violence of it," Rogers said, was a shock to his system. He noted that he's spent the early part of fall camp trying to match the intensity level of his teammates and to be more explosive off the ball.

Also new to the mammoth athlete was the standard he was being held to by his new coaches. He could often coast and get by almost any opponent at the high school level. That wasn't the case when he was a freshman lined up across from veteran SEC offensive linemen like Drake Jackson, Landon Young, and Darian Kinnard every day in practice.

"You face them, you get better and better every day," Rogers said. "When it comes to game day, it can be easier for you."

Learning to use footwork and technique more than just brute strength was another adjustment. UK defensive coordinator Brad White said during Media Day that Rogers has worked on his flexibility and being able to "flip his hips."

All of that is predicated on being a better listener as well.

"A thing I really had to learn was taking the coaching instead of trying to talk back," Rogers said.

He learned quickly that would not work with UK defensive line coach Anwar Stewart.

"He's tough. He's tough on me," Rogers said with a smile. "But he's tough on the whole room because we want to be the No. 1 defense in the country."

"He's coming," Stewart said. "I know you guys have big expectations for him, but you guys -- the media and the fans -- have to be patient with Justin. It's the SEC. Every day he has to learn and continue to produce and sharpen his skills. But he's explosive. He's doing some really good things.

"You guys are going to see a lot of him on the field."

Rogers is currently running No. 2 on the depth chart behind senior Marquan McCall at the crucial nose tackle position in UK's 3-4 scheme. He's expected to play the backup role for most of the 2021 season, similar to the role McCall held behind Quinton Bohanna the last two years.

"He told me to just be patient, to wait my turn, because they're always going to call your number when they need you," Rogers said of the advice he's received from McCall. "Just be prepared, and when you go out there, show up."