The summer started with plenty of promise for Rogers’ football team.
The Pirates ended spring practice with 14 starters returning from a team that finished 11-2 and made a run to the Class 3A semifinals last year. Among them was two-time all-state athlete Austin Kerr, the TimesDaily’s 2011 player of the year. And despite moving up to 4A, Rogers seemed like a region-title contender.
So much changed by the start of the season.
Kerr broke four bones in his foot in a swimming pool diving board accident. After a pin and two plates were surgically implanted, his projected return to football was unclear at best.
Longtime head coach Dan Beavers then abruptly resigned 27 days before the season opener. And Rogers went on to lose three of its first four games.
Things have changed in Greenhill. Kerr is back, the Pirates (3-3, 2-2) are currently tied for fourth in Region 8, have won back-to-back games and suddenly find themselves in the hunt for one of four playoff spots with three region games remaining.
Win those three, and they’re guaranteed a postseason berth.
“Getting Austin back has really helped spark our offense,” linebacker Raleigh Killen said. “The whole team seems to have gotten better the last few weeks.”
Kerr has 437 yards of offense and seven touchdowns in three games since returning from a scary injury.
He was goofing off, attempting a backflip off the diving board on that hot, late-June day. His big toe caught the board on the way down, and suddenly his season was in jeopardy.
“I jumped up and my foot was out too far,” Kerr said. “I came down on it with all my weight and broke all those bones, just shattered it. My big toe was just hanging there. I tore some stuff, messed up the nerves in my big toe and had turf toe from it.”
Still, Kerr was off crutches by the
season opener and returned to football by Week 4. It wasn’t enough for Rogers to avoid a 42-14 loss to county rival Brooks. He ran for two touchdowns despite being at what he estimates was 60 percent of full-strength.
At that point, some of the upperclassmen could feel the season slipping away and called a team meeting.
“We told all the young guys to pick it up and look to us; you go hard and we’ll go hard,” Kerr said. “Everybody really came together after that.”
The Pirates responded with a 28-27 overtime Week 5 win that Kerr and Killen consider the springboard for the rest of the season.
Then last week, Rogers notched a statement win at Central, beating the Wildcats 30-13 on the road while holding the Wildcats to 175 yards of offense and forcing three turnovers.
“We said we had to be more physical,” said Killen, who had 22 tackles, a fumble recovery and a sack in the game. “We just went in there and there and did that, blew them off the ball.”
Kerr completed 9 of 13 passes for 116 yards and two touchdowns (15 and 4 yards) in the win, while rushing for 81 yards and a touchdown (3) on 18 carries.
His role has changed since returning, playing quarterback exclusively for the first time. Kerr split snaps at quarterback as a freshman when the starter went down with a broken arm, but has spent the last two seasons at Rogers playing running back and defensive back.
“I like it, especially from the shotgun,” Kerr said. “It’s fun playing back there. It’s the most I’ve ever done it.”
His recovery continues. Kerr said he’s still not at full-speed. Making cuts still seems sketchy to him. But the talented senior, who is still receiving college interest from the likes of Tennessee-Martin, UNA, Jacksonville State and Murray State, is happy to be playing his last year in high school. And there may be yet more to come if the Pirates continue their winning trend over the next few weeks.
“I feel good. It’s still not at 100 percent, but at first I thought I was going to be done for the season,” Kerr said. “Every week, every game, it gets better and better. It just feels good to be able to get out here and play. And we’ve still got a lot more to do. We haven’t done anything yet.”
Bryan App can be reached at 256-740-5730 or email@example.com.