Overcoming obstacles is familiar to University of Washington nose tackle Tyrone Rodgers, even if it means trading in a longtime dream for a new experience.
Rodgers is in his first year with the Huskies after transferring from Oklahoma. The former Banning High standout backs up senior John Cook on a unit that is ranked first in the nation in rushing defense, allowing 65.7 yards per game.
Rodgers' contributions--14 tackles, two fumble recoveries and two sacks--have helped Washington earn its first Pacific 10 Conference title and Rose Bowl berth since the 1981 season. The Huskies (8-1 overall and 6-1 in conference play) are ranked second nationally and have a shot at the national title. They play host to UCLA (4-5, 3-3) on Saturday.
Rodgers, a 6-foot-3, 265-pound junior, underwent surgery on his left knee last spring after being injured in a full-contact scrimmage. But he made it back, clearing several hurdles along the way.
After graduating from Banning, everything appeared in order. Rodgers wanted to attend college outside the Los Angeles area, so after narrowing his choices to Arizona State, Nebraska, Oklahoma, Louisiana State and Washington, he selected the Sooners.
"At the time, I liked Oklahoma's football program," he said. "The Sooners were known for a winning tradition. Washington was second on my list, but the thought of playing in the Orange Bowl was probably the main reason I chose Oklahoma."
Rodgers appeared in 12 games as an Oklahoma reserve in 1988, including the Citrus Bowl loss to Clemson. He had eight tackles during the season and six in the Citrus Bowl.
Rodgers was looking forward to getting more playing time in the 1989 season, but the NCAA sentenced the Sooner football program to three years' probation for several violations.
"(The probation) was hard to deal with," Rodgers said. "For three years, we wouldn't be playing in any bowl games. I wanted my family to see me play in the Orange Bowl, because I felt that we would have made it."
Rodgers had a decision to make: Would he remain at Oklahoma, or transfer and have to sit out the season? It turned out to be his final year at Norman.
"After (the NCAA's decision), I had second thoughts about staying at Oklahoma," Rodgers said. "Besides, Norman is a lot slower than L.A. I felt it wasn't my kind of town. Washington was the next school on my list of choices, so I decided to transfer there. It rains a lot, especially during the (football) season, but there are more fun things to do here than in Norman."
Rodgers' move to Seattle went smoothly. He joined former Banning teammate Terrance Powe, a reserve defensive lineman.
Although he was unable to play during his first year at Washington, Rodgers practiced with the team.
He was ready to challenge for a starting position at nose tackle, but an injury to his left knee forced him to the sideline and back to the waiting game.
"It was frustrating," he said. "I was ready for spring practice. . . I wanted to make a big impact on the team. I felt I had a good chance of playing regularly, but I was back to where I was nearly a year before. I didn't want to quit, though."
Last summer, Rodgers spent most of the time rehabilitating his knee. In late August, he was listed No. 2 on the depth chart behind Cook, a position he has held throughout the season.
"He's making progress each week," Washington defensive line coach Randy Hart said. "He's an excellent football player. He's very physical against bigger offensive linemen, but he relies on quickness and finesse. I'm glad he's here."
Rodgers' knee passed its first test in Washington's home opener against San Jose State. He played 25 downs.
"It feels great to be back on the field," he said. "I guess my patience eventually paid off."
All it took was an exchange of goals: Out with the oranges and in with the roses.