FOOTBALL 2020: After breaking through in Roten's third year, Rogers Eagles pursue even more success
EXPERIENCED EAGLES: Defensive end/offensive tackle Ty Sebek (left) and linebacker/running back John Hill are battle-tested seniors for the Rogers Eagles. This is Sebek's fourth varsity season and Hill's third. They're shooting to lead Rogers on another long playoff run after coach Charlie Roten's Eagles went 11-2 last year and reached a Class 3A Division II Region II semifinal before losing to eventual state champion Gunter. (Photo by Greg Wille, TempleBeltonSports.com)
STEADY LEADER: Rogers head coach Charlie Roten has a 21-13 record in three seasons, highlighted by last year's 11-2 campaign that included a shared district championship and advancing to the third round of the Class 3A Division II playoffs. Eagles senior lineman Ty Sebek called Roten "a great coach to play for. Attitude and effort is his big message." (Photo by Greg Wille, TempleBeltonSports.com)
By GREG WILLE
ROGERS – Ty Sebek comes from a large family of Rogers football players, and many of his favorite childhood memories are of watching his cousins compete in the Eagles' black and gold. His cousin Brody Malovets was a powerful, highly productive running back who helped fuel Rogers' long playoff runs in 2013 and 2014.
“Brody was one of my biggest inspirations. When I was real young, probably in elementary school, I watched him play when I was a ball boy,” said Sebek, now a 6-foot-3, 235-pound senior defensive end and right offensive tackle who's entering his fourth varsity season for Rogers. “He was very good and I just loved watching him play. I was like, 'This is something I want to be a part of.' It helps having your father and uncles and grandparents all go deep in the playoffs when they were at Rogers.”
Sebek added a chapter to his family's winning tradition last season, when coach Charlie Roten's 11-2 Eagles recorded their first playoff victory since 2014, grabbed another postseason win and reached a Class 3A Division II Region II semifinal before losing 47-14 to eventual state champion Gunter, which Roten helped win a 2016 state title as offensive coordinator.
The playoff experience was everything that Sebek had envisioned it could be, and it left him hungry to help push the Eagles to achieve even more during his senior season.
“That's what you dream about. I remember watching cousins go deep in the playoffs, and that's always what I wanted to do,” Sebek said. “Finally I got a season where I got to go pretty deep in the playoffs, and that's our goal this season, to hopefully go farther and to finish it off right.”
Although Rogers graduated a difference-making senior class that helped it break through in Roten's third season, current seniors such as Sebek and running back/linebacker John Hill have confidence that this revamped Eagles squad has every opportunity to continue to raising the program's standards.
“We had a really successful team. We did lose a lot of seniors, but we still have a lot of people coming up and a lot of skill,” said the 5-9, 170-pound Hill, who collected 129 tackles in 2019 and has added more leadership duties and time at tailback to his plate. “I'm definitely one of the head leaders, and you have to step up and get on people's behinds if they're dragging at practice.
“I think we can go at least as far,” he added. “We just have to have some younger guys step and realize, 'Hey, we actually need you this year.' If they realize that, then I think we'll be all right.”
Rogers seeks a third consecutive win against longtime rival Academy when the Eagles open their season by hosting the Bumblebees at 7:30 p.m. Friday at Merk Field.
Instead of starting the season on a Thursday evening at Mary Hardin-Baylor's Crusader Stadium as they had the last several years, the schools decided to play in their own venues – Merk Field this year and Academy's John Glover Stadium in 2021. Rogers leads the all-time series 66-21-2 entering the 90th meeting.
“When you win that first game against your rival,” Hill said, “it kind of gets the season going and gets the train moving.”
Texas Football magazine placed the Eagles at No. 14 in its 3A Division II preseason state rankings. The new alignment has Rogers in District 13-3A Division II and Region IV instead of Region II, meaning the Eagles can't run into top-ranked Gunter again until the state championship game.
Roten would love for Rogers to eventually get another crack at Gunter, where he was the offensive coordinator for the Tigers' 16-0 3A D-II state championship team in 2016, a few months before Rogers hired him for his first head coaching job.
However, district competition will demand the Eagles' full attention. Five of their six opponents in 13-3A-II were playoff teams last season, including eighth-ranked Franklin and No. 12 Lexington. Roten said he expects Rogers, No. 21 Clifton and Buffalo to battle for the league's final two playoff berths.
“It's a bear from stem to stern,” said Roten, whose 2019 squad shared the 8-3A-II title with Clifton and Lexington. “We get started off with Buffalo, play Clifton next and then play Franklin and Lexington, so it's a challenge every week. If you're going to get to the playoffs in this district, you're going to earn it. I wouldn't want to play our fourth-place team.”
In Rogers' bi-district playoff against Buffalo last November, then-senior quarterback Heath Schiller shook off his injured knee, entered late in the fourth quarter and led a drive capped by his 8-yard touchdown pass to Joshua Minor with 31 seconds left for a dramatic 36-33 Eagles victory.
Although winning Rogers' first state football championship in its tradition-rich history remains the holy grail, Roten said the Eagles' success comes simply from focusing on the overall process and vital details.
“We don't talk about it much,” Roten said of winning a state title. “Our deal around here is just getting better day by day, practice by practice, game by game. We feel like if we do the things we're supposed to do in practice and prepare the right way and do the offseason the right way, we're going to be OK.
“Obviously talent dictates a lot of that. It's a different team than it was last year. Every year is a different set of challenges, but I like this team. They're in a good spot and they're getting better.”
Whereas Rogers took advantage of Schiller's proficient passing skills, Roten said this year's Eagles will run more as junior Riley Dolgener (6-2, 195) becomes the starting quarterback.
“He's a running threat and he's a very capable thrower,” Roten said of Dolgener, who played QB in the playoff game against Buffalo until Schiller's late heroics.
An intriguing prospect for Rogers is freshman running back RJ Cook (5-11, 170), whose unique athletic talent was evident to Roten when the coach saw a sixth-grade Cook attend an Eagles camp. Roten expects Cook and Hill to alternate series at that spot.
“I remember watching (Cook) in middle school, and you knew right away that he was going to be on varsity his freshman year,” Sebek said. “Now he's here and it's like, 'Dang, I didn't think he was that fast.'”
After 1,000-yard rusher Jordan Riley graduated, dynamic junior Christian Riley (812 rushing yards, 10 touchdowns last year) has moved from running back to slot to fill his brother's position.
“Christian can make more happen at slot. It's an explosive position for us,” Roten said. “He's athletic and he's a determined sucker. He smells that goal line.”
The Eagles' other ball carriers and receivers include seniors Jacob Glasgow, Logan Hare, Ben Hutka and Julian Lashbrook, 220-pound Ivan Lopez and fellow junior Alex Vargas. Seniors Jayce Jones and Koby Stone join Sebek on the line.
Along with sure-tackling linebacker Hill, experienced end Sebek – who's lost 20 pounds since last season and feels faster on his feet – powers Rogers' defense after making 72 tackles and five sacks in 2019. Senior Jeremiah Quinones is making strides at the other end. Roten said a dislocated shoulder could sideline junior linebacker Caleb Robinson for at least a few weeks.
Hutka (6-3, 175) is a third-year starter in the secondary, outside linebacker Hare returns after missing last season with a shoulder injury and cornerback Lashbrook also will handle the Eagles' kicking duties.
Roten last year became the seventh Rogers coach to record an 11-win season, joining program legend Donald Godwin plus Joel Berry, Lee Fedora, John Stillwell, Jeff Walker and Darren Anderson. Sebek said it's Roten's balanced approach that makes him “a great coach to play for.”
“Attitude and effort is his big message,” Sebek said of Roten, whose father, Willie Roten, compiled a 183-88-11 record with eight 10-win seasons in 25 years as a head coach in Texas high school football. “He knows when to have fun and joke around and get to know his players, but he knows how to get you to play how you need to play.”
And for Roten, the fact that Rogers has high expectations for its football program is an appealing situation.
“That's extremely important. I love this place. It's a great community and the administration's great,” Roten said. “There's negatives to everywhere, but when I interviewed here and got the job, people said, 'That's a tough place to coach. They expect you to win.' I said, 'That's what I want. Nobody's going to put any more pressure on me than myself, so let's go.'”