- The Enterprise
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As soon as Na’Ty Rodgers’ name was mentioned Wednesday morning during his formal selection for the prestigious 2013 Under Armour All-America High School Football Game, the McDonough standout offensive tackle got a rousing ovation in standing fashion from his entire Rams team, coaching staff, family and school administration.
The 6-foot 4, 285-pound Rodgers, ranked 27th nationally at his position in the ESPN 100, is one of just 90 highly recruited talents in the country to earn an invite to the sixth annual Under Armour game on Jan. 4, nationally televised on ESPN at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, Fla. Kickoff is set for 5 p.m. from the home of the Tampa Bay Rays.
The American Family Insurance Selection Tour, which formally gives players the all-star nod, made a stop in McDonough’s auditorium to present Rodgers with his honorary jersey while on stage stationed at a table with a pair of Under Armour-logoed helmets in front of a backdrop advertising the elite recruit-laden gathering. The backdrop featured NFL young receiving stars in Atlanta’s Julio Jones and Cincinnati’s A.J. Green, who both played in the inaugural Under Armour game in 2008.
Now, Rodgers will follow in their explosive footsteps after his decorated high school career came to a close earlier this month in the Class 2A South Region playoffs for McDonough. While he shined individually on the field, at recruiting camps and on film, Rodgers also tasted the glory of winning it all when McDonough celebrated the state title in 2010 during his sophomore campaign.
“It was a nice thrill,” Rodgers said of Wednesday’s selection ceremony to the Under Armour game, having no prior knowledge that his entire team would be on hand. “It was good to have my family, my coaches and my teammates there, all people that were there throughout the whole process [of my high school career]. To have [my teammates] there, it means they really respect me and they know what I did to get to where I am. And really they helped me to get to where I am so I really thank them for that.”
Making the Under Armour game an even more significant event for Rodgers is his plan to announce his college destination there. The blue-chip recruit basically has the pick of the litter when it comes to where he wants to play college football being as widely recruited across the nation as any Southern Maryland Athletic Conference product has ever been by 27 major conference and big-time college programs, according to Yahoo, including Maryland, South Carolina, Oklahoma, Florida, Arkansas, Hawaii, UCLA, USC and West Virginia.
Rodgers said Wednesday that he’s narrowed his choices down to Maryland and South Carolina.
And he’s leaning towards playing for the South Carolina Gamecocks, coached by the accomplished Steve Spurrier.
His father, Tyrone, played college football for Oklahoma and Washington before playing in the NFL with the Seattle Seahawks from 1992 through 1994. His father still resides on the west coast in Los Angeles and thus has helped in Rodgers’ recruitment on that side of the country.
“It’s just a major accomplishment, a really good day,” Rodgers’ mother, Nana Bailey-Thomas, said of her son’s Under Armour game selection amidst his heavy recruitment. “There are a lot of blood, sweat and tears that go into it, from the time commitment to the traveling to the injuries to the emotional support, the grades, and then coupled with the fact of going on unofficial visits [to colleges]. We’re truly blessed and fortunate to allow for him to have done that so he could really figure out where he wanted to go. There are so many young men that wish they were in this position, so we’re just thankful and happy to be here.
“We’re very proud of him.”
Continuing family tradition
Rodgers, whose step-father Tommy Thomas also played high-level NCAA Division I football at New Mexico State, may someday add his name to the list of Under Armour alumni that reached the highest level in the sport.
“Always growing up in the locker room with my father playing, I always had that image of wanting to be him someday,” Rodgers said. “I can’t really say [making the Under Armour game while being heavily recruited] is really a dream. It was more of a goal to be up there [getting selected to the Under Armour game]. Now my goal, it’s not reached yet, but I’m getting a little bit closer every day.
“Going to this all-star game, I’m just focused on the practices. The practices are more important than the game, just going up against the guys that you see on Rivals and ESPN. That’s what you want to go there and do.”
His step-father added right after his selection ceremony to the Under Armour game, “This is a great day for Na’Ty. He’s worked hard for it. I’m just glad to see him happy, being selected to such a prestigious game. This is going to continue to propel his career.”
Playing in such a nationally televised all-star game is rare territory for the SMAC, despite the immense talent it spits out on a yearly basis.
The last time this type of scenario played out for a SMAC talent occurred in January of 2006 when another highly touted McDonough senior in A.J. Wallace played cornerback in the U.S. Army All-American Bowl.
“To get national recognition, it takes a lot of work and that’s a big step,” McDonough head coach Luke Ethington said. “This speaks to the quality of athlete we have here in the Southern Maryland area. I think it speaks a lot to Charles County, and it does kind of validate the idea there are quality athletes that come out of this area. The coaches and all of our conference schools do a great job in developing the talent we have down here.
“To me, it speaks more to that than anything else.”
The practice schedule for the Under Armour game is from Dec. 31-Jan. 3 with the media luncheon and American Family Insurance Skills Challenge taking place the afternoon of Jan. 2.
Rodgers will be a busy man by the time he flies out for Florida right before the close of this year.
On Dec. 29 at 2 p.m., he will be suiting up in the Chesapeake Bowl at Prince George’s Sports and Learning Complex. The Chesapeake Bowl features all-stars from Maryland, Virginia and Washington D.C. versus like talents from New Jersey, Delaware and Pennsylvania.
Rodgers was selected for five all-star games but NCAA rules only allow him to play in no more than two. So he will not represent the SMAC in the Chick-fil-A Challenge when it takes on the Prince George’s all-stars at North Point High School on Dec. 8, like many of his McDonough teammates.
“I can honestly say, I’m a big football mom,” Bailey-Thomas said with a smile. “So it’s time to go to work. You better go out there and don’t embarrass yourself, me or any of your potential new teammates. For him, [the Under Armour game] solidifies that he’s getting ready to go on to the next chapter in his life.
“He truly understands, ‘My high school career is over.’ So he’s now getting ready to play against the best in the country and figure out who he’s going to play for on Saturdays.”