Mead High’s Jordan Rogers will step on one of a checkerboard of wrestling mats today at Mat Classic XXIII as the most feared athlete at the state tournament in the Tacoma Dome.
And the most accomplished.
The 171-pound junior dynamo has had quite a bit happen in the past 12 months – starting with last year’s Mat Classic, which he missed after coming down with appendicitis in the days leading up to the event.
Sidelined nearly a month, Rogers returned to wrestling refocused and energized. He won various high-profile tournaments in the spring, and ended up earning a spot on the U.S. team for the 2010 Youth Olympic Games last summer in Singapore.
He was one victory from taking home a gold medal from Southeast Asia.
Now, he’s the gold standard of wrestling in Washington – focused on capturing his second Mat Classic title this weekend, and then eventually wrestling in the Summer Olympics.
“Nothing has really changed with him,” Mead coach Phil McLean said, “except he’s so well-known now.”
The penultimate weekend of the high school wrestling season last year was a disappointment for Rogers, who went into his Class 4A Region IV meet on a collision course to meet University High’s Jake Mason.
Feeling lethargic, and looking a step slow, Rogers dropped a 3-1 decision to Mason in the final at Richland.
Afterward, Bill Rogers looked at his son. The teenager was pale and he slumped.
“He mentioned he was a little tired,” Bill Rogers said. “But whatever happened that day, happened. There were no excuses. Mason is a great kid.”
Two nights later – Feb. 15, a Monday – Jordan Rogers went to bed. He woke up a short time later with cramps. He had not eaten much that day, so he made himself a small peanut butter and jelly sandwich, and drank a glass of milk.
“I laid down to get comfortable,” Rogers said. “Then I got up and (vomited) a little bit, thinking I’d feel fine afterward.”
The discomfort persisted – enough that Rogers finally wandered into his parents’ bedroom, complaining about the sharp pain in his side.
“He just stood at the foot of our bed and told us he couldn’t sleep and that he had a gut ache,” Bill Rogers said. “I just looked at his mom and said, ‘It sounds like appendicitis.’ ”
Rushed to Spokane’s Providence Holy Family Hospital in the wee hours of Tuesday morning, Jordan Rogers was in surgery by 6 a.m. to have his appendix removed.
Devastated and sobbing in the hours leading up to surgery, Rogers was in a different state of mind when his father visited him later that day.
“He was upbeat and really perky. I didn’t expect him to be feeling like that,” Bill Rogers said. “He just said, ‘Honestly, Dad, I just started thinking about (the timing of it), and figured God was putting me through this adversity for a reason.’ ”
Three weeks passed before Jordan Rogers was back on the mat, training with teammates and coaches at Big Cat Wrestling Club in Spokane.
A big opportunity arose for Rogers, too. As a 2009 USA Wrestling All-American, he was allowed to spend a couple of weeks in late March working out at the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, Colo.
“That really helped me from being out of shape to getting in shape,” Rogers said.
• First stop, 2010 FILA Cadet Nationals in mid-March in Akron, Ohio.
In the 167-pound class, Rogers was pressed early and often, wrestling seven times in a two-day span.
Utilizing “technique rather than muscle force,” Rogers said, he advanced to the finals, where he defeated Oklahoma standout Kyle Crutchmer to win the title.
• Next stop, Pan American Youth Olympic Games qualifier in May in Monterrey, Mexico.
From his FILA Cadet Nationals triumph, Rogers was one of five champions with an opportunity to make the U.S. team for the Youth Olympic Games.
Rogers registered pins in both matches, taking the title over Canada’s Dalton Webb.
Suddenly, Rogers was on everyone’s radar as a national-caliber wrestler.
• Final stop, Youth Olympic Games in mid-August in Singapore.
About 3,600 teenage athletes in 26 sports showed up for the inaugural Youth Olympic Games.
Rogers was part of a U.S. contingent of five wrestlers. And they stuck together, both on and off the mat.
“Wrestling was one of the earlier events, so we focused on the competition early, but after that, it was like touring Singapore,” Rogers said.
He lived in housing with all the other athletes. For travel, buses carrying Youth Olympic Games athletes had their own highway lanes. Signs were plastered all over the city publicizing the 13-day international extravaganza.
“It was more a bigger deal there,” Rogers said, “than in the United States.”
For fun, a beach wrestling competition – sumo-style – was held for the athletes along the Indian Ocean. Rogers had to wrestle in the heavyweight division, grappling with athletes who sometimes outweighed him by 50 pounds.
“After the competition, it was so nice and humid out,” Rogers said, “we would just go and take a dip in the ocean.”
In his 167-pound freestyle division, Rogers made it all the way to the championship match, where he faced Turkey’s Resul Kalayci.
“Before the match, the Russian and European wrestlers are very relaxed, almost like they put you to sleep,” Rogers said. “Then they explode, and hit their moves hard. It was crazy.”
That is what happened in the early seconds of the finals – Kalayci grabbed Rogers and tossed him en route to winning the gold medal.
Rogers might have lost a gold medal, but he gained recognition with some of the most important people involved in the sport – notably Brandon Slay, USA Wrestling’s national freestyle resident coach.
“What he did was a huge accomplishment,” Slay said. “And what it does is give Jordan the confidence that if he wants to be an Olympic champion, he’s on the right track. When you can go to international competition and beat international (talent), it says ‘I am one of the best wrestlers in my weight class in the world.’ ”
AT MAT CLASSIC AND READY
Rogers is facing important decisions down the road.
Already 20 to 30 NCAA Division I programs have been in contact with him. Coaches from Boise State, Iowa, Minnesota and Oregon State will be at Mat Classic XXIII this weekend to watch him.
Next year, he could opt to go to college, or spend an entire year at the Olympic Training Center as a B.J. Stupak scholarship recipient, delaying college enrollment until 2013.
Slay said he views Rogers as a U.S. Olympic team hopeful for 2016 or 2020.
“Going to Singapore was a pretty powerful experience for him,” McLean said. “It’s put a vision in him, that maybe he can do this in the future on a different level.”
What is not lost in all of this is the starting point of Rogers’ fantastic run of wrestling fortune – missing last year’s Mat Classic. The perspective that he gained might be more valuable than the title he might have won.
“At first, it was a big bummer because trying to be a four-time state champion was a big goal,” Rogers said. “But looking back at it, a lost shot at a state title, compared to all the things that happened to me over the summer – I can settle for giving that up. Now I can see why things happened the way they did.”
Todd Milles: 253-597-8442 firstname.lastname@example.org blog.thenewstribune.com/preps