Austin Rogers, a 6-2, 190-pound fifth-year senior from Nashville, suffered a torn ACL during voluntary workouts last Friday that will cause him to miss the 2009 season. He is the second Vol to be ruled out for '09, joining freshman tailback Toney Williams, who tore an ACL during voluntary workouts a few weeks ago.
Although he already burned a redshirt year in 2006, Rogers has a good chance to get a sixth year of eligibility in 2010. The NCAA tends to be more lenient with players who sit out two seasons due to health problems than those who sit out a season because their prospects for playing time are limited. For instance, Vol defensive back Antonio Gaines got a sixth year from the NCAA last fall after missing the 2003 and 2007 seasons due to knee problems. Rogers should get the same consideration, since he missed the '06 season due to a shoulder injury and mononucleosis.
Rogers' absence hurts Tennessee's offense. He caught 56 passes as a sophomore in 2007 before slumping to 14 receptions as part of the general malaise that afflicted the '08 attack.
Rogers' absence hurts the team psyche, too. A popular and hard-working player, his pain is shared by his Vol teammates.
"My brother (Brad) went through almost the exact same thing, except he got to come back for the last few games of his (senior) season," tight end Jeff Cottam said. "It's really hard emotionally, especially in Austin's case ... not knowing if he'll ever be able to play again. It's real emotionally challenging."
Tailback Montario Hardesty, a fifth-year senior who has endured more than his share of injuries, can relate to Rogers' disappointment.
"He had a good spring; he was having a good summer," Hardesty said. "He's a great guy - one of the leaders of the team - so this is definitely a big loss for our team. Now we've got to have other guys step up. Hopefully, Austin can get the year back and come back strong next year."
Junior quarterback Nick Stephens believes the 2009 Vols are losing a quality person, as well as a quality receiver.
"He's a good friend and a great football player," Stephens said. "It's a big loss to the team and the whole Volunteer family."
Rogers suffered a torn ACL during his high school days, so he recognized the feeling when it happened again last week.
"He'd actually injured an ACL before, so he knew what it felt like," Stephens said. "The first thing he said to me was, 'This is serious.'"
Like Cottam, Hardesty and Stephens, Rogers' Vol teammates have rallied around him.
"It happened in the monrning, and as word spread throughout the day, people were in shock," Stephens said. "Everybody knows how long and how hard he'd worked. It's tough on him, on his family, on me and on the whole football team."
Even with Austin sidelined, there may be a Rogers representing the Big Orange this fall. Younger brother Zach signed with the Vols last February and will be competing for playing time at receiver this fall.