Elijah Rodgers hopes the third time’s a charm for him at Clemson. At the very least, he hopes Clemson will give him a fresh start.
After a pair of stops at Indiana and Gardner-Webb that didn’t work out for Rodgers, the embattled but talented cornerback is now enrolled at Clemson and plans to walk on to the football team.
A former two-time all-state performer and Shrine Bowl selection at Blacksburg (S.C.) High School, Rodgers reached out to Clemson cornerbacks coach Mike Reed this summer to see if there was a chance he could join the team as a walk-on.
“I know they don’t invest in the transfer market, so I knew I’d have to walk on,” Rodgers told The Clemson Insider. “I’ll have to try out since they don’t take transfers, instead of coming in like a transfer.
“He told me I’d have a fair shot to make it, so I decided to go with the opportunity. A chance to be close to home and play for a top-tier football program is a dream come true.”
Rodgers, a former three-star recruit in the class of 2018, signed with Indiana out of high school. He enrolled there in the summer of 2018 but left the school before the season started due to a family matter and the fact he was so far away from home.
“My grandpa passing away from cancer ultimately brought me back closer to home a few years ago,” Rodgers told TCI.
Rodgers then found what he thought would be a good college fit in Gardner-Webb, so in August 2018 he transferred to the university in Boiling Springs, N.C.
It was supposed to be a good chance for him to play closer to home and be teammates with his older brother, Kobe, a GWU safety. However, Rodgers ended up leaving GWU as well because of the way the coaching staff handled his redshirt situation.
The NCAA’s redshirt rule allows Division I football players to play in up to four games in a season while still qualifying for a redshirt and not losing a season of eligibility. Rodgers was told he would redshirt his first year there and return with four seasons of eligibility, but that is not what went down.
“They played me on special teams for four games, then one snap in the fifth game, and then took me off every special team for the rest of the year after that,” Rodgers said. “So I couldn’t redshirt, and I wasn’t on special teams. They didn’t play me on defense at all the entire year as well.”
“There was a game at the end of the year where we were low on depth, everyone was hurt in the secondary, except for me,” he added. “I was the only backup available. Someone got hurt and the coaches put a linebacker in the secondary instead of playing me.”
Following the negative experience at GWU, Rodgers took a year off from college as he needed time to regroup and get back in the right frame of mind after everything that had transpired at his previous two stops. He received an offer to walk on at South Carolina but turned it down, not ready to get back on the horse just yet.
Now he is, though, and he is hoping to make the most of his opportunity to start over as a student-athlete with the Tigers.
“I think it’s a chance to start fresh and also learn from what’s happened in the past,” Rodgers said. “I know a lot of the guys down there already, so I think I’ll have a chance to fit right in.”
The 2017 Class AA Upper State Defensive Back of the Year, Rodgers is a long, athletic corner who blocked seven kicks over his final two prep seasons at Blacksburg. A two-way standout as a senior, the 6-foot-1, 175-pounder posted 29 total tackles, five pass breakups, three interceptions and four forced fumbles while recovering two fumbles and blocking four kicks. He also passed for 866 yards and 14 touchdowns and rushed for 534 yards and five more scores.
Rodgers, who has been clocked at 4.53 seconds in the 40-yard dash and notched a 36-inch vertical jump, believes he has what it takes to play for the Tigers.
“I’m confident I can play with the best of them,” he said. “I think I offer great length and athleticism on the edge as a corner. Great physicality as well. I offer a veteran mindset having been in college and understanding the game at that level.”
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