High School Sports

Turning Rogers’ inexperience into excellence? Call it the Gene Bowen Special

WATCH: Nathaniel Salausa, Koby Barker hope to lead Rogers through tough 4A SPSL

Rogers has a young team after losing 25 players to graduation last year, but that just means opportunity for others to step up in what should be a daunting 4A South Puget Sound League this year.
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Rogers has a young team after losing 25 players to graduation last year, but that just means opportunity for others to step up in what should be a daunting 4A South Puget Sound League this year.

The Rogers High School football players could end Friday’s morning practice one of two ways: Gassers or the Bowen Special — a surprise workout that only coach Gene Bowen could create.

In hindsight, Nathaniel Salausa said the Bowen Special was a poor choice.


“Oh, my God!”

Players’ grunts and grumbles rang out as they completed sets of squats, ski jumps, push-ups, planks, planks-to-push-ups and leg exercises.

Then a louder voice.

“Bleed blue! Bleed blue!” one player yelled, mid push-up.

“Last night, we ran what Coach Bowen called a carnival drill,” said senior wide receiver Koby Barker. “We were running to four stations — push-ups at one, burpees at another, squats at another and some kind of core workout at another. That was pretty hard-core, too.”

Bowen admitted he’s conditioning his players even harder than he did last year. That’s because he lost 25 seniors to graduation, has a young team and coaches behind him who are now in their second year in the system — including former NFL, UW and Puyallup receiver Dane Looker, Rogers’ offensive coordinator.

“In our conversations and evaluating where we are — conditioning and getting in shape, especially core exercises, were important things for us this summer,” said Bowen, who is entering his 13th season as the Rams’ coach. “You have to put the time into it. That gets lost in trying to make sure we have enough scheme, did we get enough offense? Have enough defense? Did we get enough reps? What gets pushed to the back is the conditioning.

“If they’re crying and moaning about the Bowen Special today — so be it.”

And Rogers didn’t just have 25 seniors last year.

“We had a lot of seniors play last year,” Bowen said. “When you look at our roster now — wow. There’s not a lot of guys who have played much on Friday nights.

“I think that’s exciting. We would like to have that identity of having a class act, and we’re going to play 100 percent all the time, no matter what.”

There are a few things that need to happen if the Rams plan to improve on last season’s 2-8 record.

One issue is mentality, Bowen said. Rogers reached the state playoffs in four of five years from 2008-12 because the team expected to be there. That expectation has slightly faded.

“To be honest, it’s just believing they can get there,” Bowen said.

The other issue is excelling with simplified offensive and defensive schemes than in past years.

Makaio Gillespie or Brydon Harlan is in line to be the Week 1 quarterback when Rogers opens its season with a 4A South Puget Sound League matchup at Bellarmine Prep at 7 p.m. on Sept. 2. Bowen said he plans to have the starting quarterback decided by this week.

A strength: The receiving corps, which includes Barker, Salausa and Cade Barrett.

Bowen likes what he’s seen from sophomore running back Alema Gago, who likely will play outside linebacker, too. And the coach said nose tackle Michael Fifita is one of the strongest, most physical players he’s had — even if Rogers lacks size overall.

“I don’t think we’ll be as physically big as some teams,” Bowen said. “We are going to have some quickness, but we aren’t going to have the big dudes like Graham and Olympia and those guys have. We’ll have to have quick feet, and we’re figuring that out.”

Call that “figuring that out” part of the Bowen Special.

“Everybody is working hard and busting their butts every morning,” said Salausa, a senior.

“This is a lot tougher this year,” Barker said. “I think (Bowen) is cracking down on us, making us work harder, and I think it’s making us a lot better.

“He’s a player’s coach. All of us can rally behind him. I feel like he really cares about us more as a person than a player.”

TJ Cotterill: 253-597-8677