Except for surname, he's just another VU hopeful

Sunday, March 21, 2010 at 8:46pm
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Jordan Rodgers / Mike Strasinger for The City Paper

What’s in a name? Expectations.

Just ask Jordan Rodgers, the younger brother of Green Bay Packers’ quarterback Aaron Rodgers and a newcomer to Vanderbilt’s football team.

He knows that almost everyone forms expectations of him the moment they learn his surname. Some believe he must possess an uncanny ability to throw the ball. Others believe there’s no way he can measure up to the standard of his older brother.

“It’s something I’ve dealt with for a while and it’s actually something I embrace,” he said. “Having a brother play in the NFL is a blessing. He helps me out. He’s been a great example as a person and as an athlete. The pressure that comes along with it is just something I deal with.

“It’s something I don’t even notice anymore. I look forward to the opportunity to either prove some people wrong or just work hard enough to hopefully fill his shoes some day.”

Certainly, his name was part of the attraction for Vanderbilt coaches last fall when it became known he was looking for a place to play following two seasons at Butte College (Oroville, Calif.).

Originally, he committed to Kansas but reopened the recruiting process after that school fired coach Mark Mangino early last December. Before the end of the month, Rodgers signed a letter-of-intent with the Commodores.

Last week, he was one of two players signed after the 2009 season to start spring drills.

“We’ve had a lot of great quarterbacks whose fathers were either coaches or quarterbacks,” coach Bobby Johnson said. “I think if it’s been emphasized in the family or you did it as kids and you saw — as an example — your older brother, I certainly think it helps.”

Simple choices

What’s in a name? History.

The path from junior college to Vanderbilt is not a well-worn one. Only one other player in Johnson’s previous eight seasons has traveled it, in fact. For Rodgers, though, it was a simple choice to follow the same basic path his brother once trod.

Aaron Rodgers got no Division I scholarship offers out of high school so he enrolled at Butte, which was not far from the family’s home in Chico, Calif.

He played one year there before he was offered a scholarship to attend the University of California. It took less than a year before he was the starter and following his junior season, he made himself available for the NFL draft. He went in the first round (24th overall) to the Green Bay Packers and eventually succeeded Brett Favre as that team’s starter.

Jordan Rodgers was a three-sport star at Pleasant Valley High School and led the football team to an 8-3-1 record as a quarterback in his senior season. Even so, he did not look like a Division I prospect.

“My senior year I was about 5-11, 160 pounds,” he said. “I felt like I had a lot of the tools to be a quarterback at the next level. I felt like I had a lot of maturing to do physically, and my brother kind of laying the footwork to go through a junior college path was definitely an influence. I saw that he could do it.

“I just felt like I needed a couple more years before I’d step on a four-year campus, physically with the tools to compete.”

Currently, he is listed at 6-foot-2, 210 pounds, which makes him among the tallest and the heaviest of the five quarterbacks currently on the Commodores’ roster.

Scoring opportunity

What’s in a name? When the name of the game is to score points, opportunity.

In going 2-10 in 2009, Vanderbilt ranked 110th (out of 120 in the Football Bowl Subdivision) in total offense at 306.33 yards per game. It was even worse — tied for 113th — in scoring offense with an average of 16.33 points per game.

Both ranked at the bottom of the Southeastern Conference.

“I wouldn’t say that I had given too much thought to the possibility of going to Vanderbilt,” Rodgers said. “I remember when I was looking at schools, just kind of looking through rosters at who might possibly need a junior college quarterback, I really didn’t think that Vanderbilt might be one of them.”

There certainly is not any sort of obvious opening, but anyone who can improve the performance of the offense will be considered for immediate playing time.

The Commodores’ stable of quarterbacks includes last year’s starter, Larry Smith (a fourth-year junior), Jared Funk (a fifth-year senior) and 2009 recruit Charlie Goro, the first Parade All-American since 1985 to sign with Vanderbilt. Goro was redshirted last season.

Rodgers has three years to play two, which means VU’s coaches have the opportunity to redshirt him if they don’t feel he is prepared to make an immediate impact on the program this fall.

“The only thing he’s got to do is learn what to do,” Johnson said. “That’s going to take a while. … He’s a fast learner, a smart kid. He won’t have trouble picking it up. He’ll be ready to go soon.”

That certainly was the case at Butte, where he accomplished things even his brother did not.

Jordan Rodgers started five times during the school’s first undefeated season (12-0), one that ended with the 2008 National Junior College Championship. Last fall, he was an all-conference selection when he set the school record with 2,512 yards of total offense.

Manning the challenges

What’s in a name? Challenges.

The name ‘Vanderbilt’ does not exactly evoke the image of football excellence.

It has been proven time and again that the task of competing in the Southeastern Conference is a significant one. One thing that makes the school’s burden much heavier is its academic standards, both in terms of admissions and classroom performance in pursuit of a degree.

Neither reality seemed particularly daunting to the younger Rodgers, who earned academic recognition last fall.

“As a quarterback, you want to go to a place where you can compete at the highest level possible,” he said. “Playing in the SEC, you’re not going to get much better or play against better defenses. Also the academic standpoint … I’ve had good grades my whole life, and that’s something that’s definitely important to me — getting a good degree.”

Neither of those things preclude the possibility that he might one day make the Rodgers name as prevalent in the NFL quarterback fraternity as that of ‘Manning.’

That much has been obvious to him often since he arrived on campus. Many times he has been in the weight room at the same time as former Commodores’ quarterback Jay Cutler, a former first-round pick and the current starter for the Chicago Bears.

“He loved it here so he was telling me about his experience here and about his experience with our coaching staff,” Rodgers said. “He just had nothing but great things to say about it.

“I knew Jay went here and had great success. It’s a place where a quarterback can succeed and move on to the next level.”

It might even be a place where a quarterback can make a name for himself.