Oak Park four-star lineman Justin Rogers has developed into one of the premier players in the nation. He enters his senior season as The Detroit News’ No. 1 player in the state.
Rogers follows two other recent standout linemen for Oak Park -- JaRaymond Hall (Michigan/Central Michigan) and Marquan McCall (Kentucky).
Rogers hasn’t been attending camps this summer. Instead, he has been busy taking classes so he can graduate in December and enroll early to join McCall at Kentucky in January.
Rogers displayed his ability to dominate on the offensive line his sophomore year, then was a force at linebacker at 6-foot-3 and 300 pounds last season while also playing on the offensive line.
Rogers consistently got into the backfield, making 22 tackles for loss and seven sacks while forcing four fumbles to help Oak Park win the OAA White Division championship.
“I’ve really been a student of the game, just wanted to get better every year,” Rogers told The Detroit News. “I wanted to challenge myself last year to see what I could play, had fun playing linebacker. I feel I was more physical. I think I’ll be playing more on the defensive line this year.”
Kentucky coach Mark Stoops will probably be uneasy until Rogers signs his letter of intent in December, especially since Rogers took an official visit to Alabama this summer -- after he had committed to Kentucky during a press conference at Oak Park.
But, Rogers said Stoops has nothing to fear, that he still plans on attending Kentucky, and he is looking forward to playing for the Wildcats.
“I’ve been taking classes so I can enroll early, took an English class, took a science class,” Rogers said. “I want to go early so I can get ahead of the game, get in shape so I have the chance to play right away.”
While Rogers has been a force on both sides of the ball, Oak Park has suffered early exits in the state playoffs with two-time defending Division 2 state champion Warren De La Salle being a road block the last two years, 14-7 in a regional final in 2017 and 35-7 in a district final last year. Oak Park lost to Division 2 state champ Detroit King, 34-7, in a district final in 2016.
“I want to get a state championship ring,” said Rogers of his goal for his senior year. “We have a good shot to get it done. We have a lot of the same players, so we have a talented team with a lot of experience.”
Oak Park lost quarterback Dwan Mathis (Georgia) and 1,400-yard running back Phillip Stewart, but Rogers has confidence in quarterback Frank Black and his ability to get to the ball to four-star receiver Maliq Carr. He is also looking forward to working once again on the offensive line with three-star junior left tackle/defensive end Rayshaun Benny, who has an offer from Auburn.
“Our quarterback (Black) is good; he was our starting safety last year, but he played quarterback in Little League,” said Rogers of Black, who was 9-0 as the starting quarterback on Oak Park’s JV team in 2017. “Maliq will have a great year. I expect him to go up and grab every ball that comes his way.”
Oak Park veteran coach Greg Carter has been impressed with Rogers’ work ethic. Rogers has definitely spent more than his share of time in the weight room, now benching 350 pounds, and 250 pounds 23 times.
“Justin has been doing it for such a long time, so he has his moments where he can really take over a game,” Carter said. “We expect big things out of him. He’ll play offensive tackle and defensive line. I don’t know if he’ll play linebacker, but it’s a possibility.
“He played some defensive end for us last year, but I think he wants to play the three-tech on the next level, so we’ll get him some experience there. It depends on how our defensive front looks. Right now, it seems to be a strength of ours. We’ve got Dondi Price back and we’re excited about him coming into his senior year.”
Price is 6-0 and 300 pounds and will be a four-year starter.
John Herrington, the state’s all-time winningest coach, had trouble slowing down Rogers during Farmington Hills Harrison’s final season last year, when Oak Park earned a 23-15 win.
“I’m glad we don’t play him this year,” said Herrington. “He’s been a dominant player ever since he came on the scene as a freshman when he started, then last year he showed us what he could do when he played linebacker. He’s a dominant athlete, no question about it, has great strength, size, has all the intangibles.
“We played against LaMarr Woodley (Saginaw, Michigan, Pittsburgh Steelers) and some really good ones. We’ve had some good ones, and he would compare to them. If he continues to improve, and I’m sure he will, he’ll have the ability to be a Sunday player (NFL).”
While Herrington no longer has to prepare to play Rogers, West Bloomfield coach Ron Bellamy does. West Bloomfield will host Oak Park in the season opener Aug. 30.
“In my opinion, Justin Rogers is the most dominant football player in the state of Michigan from a physicality standpoint,” Bellamy said. “When you’re watching film on Justin, he’s a kid that plays right tackle, plays defensive end, linebacker. When you are game planning as a coach, you’re always looking where No. 52 is on the field, so you can make the proper adjustments. He’s a big guy, but also has great agility, where his first step is amazing. He’s just so disruptive.”
When Bellamy was asked if he could compare Rogers with any player he’s faced in the past or has had on his team, he replied: “He reminds me of one my former players who played at Farmington Hills Harrison, Khalid Kareem (now at Notre Dame) -- just one of those rare high school players that you see once every five years. They are dominant at the point of attack. They can impose their will. It’s almost like having two additional players, like going 13 on 11.”