Watching Calgary Stampeders receiver Eric Rogers in full turf-chewing stride towards the end zone, you might guess his college track and field specialty was the 400 metres.
But Rogers was actually a triple-jumper as well as a football player at California Lutheran. His muscle recoil and comfort when airborne was evident in a spectacular touchdown catch late in the first half of Saturday’s 34-31 win over the Saskatchewan Roughriders.
With time expiring in the half and quarterback Bo Levi Mitchell airmailing from midfield, Rogers rose above a swarm of leaping green jerseys in the end zone to haul in a 46-yard touchdown catch for an 18-9 halftime lead.
The CFL’s current leader in receiving yards (660) and touchdowns (seven) says practising the art of track’s hop, step and jump, which has been an Olympic event since the Games began in 1896, cultivated some of the tools to make that catch.
“Triple jump, definitely a lot of body control,” Rogers explained Wednesday after Stampeder practice at McMahon Stadium. “You’re on one foot for three consecutive jumps so there’s a lot of body control in the air.
“That definitely translated over to the field, to be able to go up and torque your body into any position you need to get that catch. I saw the ball thrown, tracked it very well, got underneath it.
“You’re a much stronger jumper off of two feet than one. I went up off two and was able to secure the ball and make a play.”
A speedy six-foot-three, 210-pound slotback with a vertical of about 90 centimetres poses a headache for opposing defensive backs.
“He creates a lot of mismatch problems for a lot of smaller DB’s out there,” Mitchell said. “He has the body position and the ability to go up and hold guys off and as guys are swatting at him, hold onto the football and bring it down.”
The Stampeders (6-2) sit atop the CFL’s West Division and head to Winnipeg on Saturday to face the Blue Bombers (3-5).
Rogers, 24, is the first player with touchdown catches in six consecutive games since Saskatchewan’s Weston Dressler in 2012.
The Ottawa Redblacks were the first CFL team to show interest in the Glendora, Calif., native, but released him prior to their 2014 training camp.
Rogers was added to Calgary’s practice roster in July of last year. He didn’t play until the penultimate game of the regular season Oct. 24 against Saskatchewan.
He had two touchdown catches in Calgary’s regular-season finale against B.C., and another two in the West Division final win versus Edmonton. Rogers was Calgary’s leading receiver in the Grey Cup victory with five catches for 108 yards.
“Definitely a quick study,” Stampeders receivers coach Pete Costanza said. “For Eric last year, it was kind of learning the offence on the fly. It’s hard.
“The one thing that helped last year towards this year was he had a feel for the speed of the game and what the CFL game was all about.”
Costanza compares Rogers to a former Stampeder receiver who also wore No. 80. Jeremaine Copeland, now Saskatchewan’s receivers coach, led the CFL in TD receptions with 12 in 2009.
“Just from their body control and how they can contort themselves to make a catch and really, really good hands, Eric is very similar to Cope,” Costanza said. “When I saw Cope in the pre-season I said ‘hey, I got a young guy wearing your number that reminds me a lot of you.”’
Rogers is California Lutheran’s all-time leader in receiving yards (3,461), touchdown catches (41), receptions (220) and scoring (270). He set a triple-jump record for the Division 3 school in his junior year of 15.15 metres, or 49 feet 8.5 inches.
Rogers gave up jumping as a senior to concentrate on football with one regret.
“I wanted to jump 50 (feet) at least one time,” he said.