If Justin Rogers chooses Kentucky on Monday, score one for UK’s recruiting instincts.
UK offered Rogers — now a five-star offensive lineman — when he was just in eighth grade. Now the Wildcats are listed among the final six schools ahead of his May 20 announcement, and many believe they’re the favorite to land the 6-2, 310-pound offensive guard out of Oak Park (Mich.).
Both 247Sports and Rivals rank him as the top offensive guard in the nation and the No. 1 recruit in the state of Michigan. Rivals rates Rogers as a five-star prospect — 10th nationally — while 247Sports considers him a four-star recruit and 30th in the nation.
There’s reason to remain cautious: Rogers released his final five — Kentucky, Georgia, LSU, Tennessee and Michigan — on May 8, but less than 24 hours later added a sixth school, Alabama, to the mix following what he described on Twitter as “an amazing conversation” with Crimson Tide head coach Nick Saban. He’s also taking a visit to Georgia this weekend.
Rogers in late April visited Kentucky. Forty-eight percent of 247Sports’ Crystal Ball predictions, including those of lead expert Steve Wiltfong and Midwest recruiting analyst Allen Trieu, have Rogers picking UK, and 50 percent of Rivals’ predictions have the same projection.
Landon Young, ranked 29th nationally by Rivals in the 2016 class, is the only five-star recruit who has signed with UK since the site began its rankings in 2002. Rogers, if he commits to and ultimately signs with the Wildcats come winter, would be the highest-ranked signee in the program’s history.
The Georgia visit could carry a lot of weight, Trieu said, as well could the fact that a quarterback and friend he used to protect at Oak Park — D’Wan Mathis — signed with the Bulldogs as part of their 2019 class. Being the first to recognize Rogers’ talent might be a crucial difference-maker, for UK, though.
“Sometimes that doesn’t end carrying a lot of weight, but it was a pretty real, legitimate offer after seeing him work out, and I think he definitely remembered that, and helped them build a relationship with him that young,” Trieu said. “And it’s the same staff, whereas if a different school had offered him in eighth grade, it might be different coaches by the time he’s a senior.”
Brice Marich, a recruiting reporter for The Michigan Insider, has watched Rogers play a few times during his high school career and believes he could be an All-American level player in college. His athleticism on the line is even more noticeable on the defensive side.
“He even played some linebacker,” Marich said. “For a guy who’s 6-2 and a half, 310, playing linebacker and blowing up a running back in the backfield or hitting the quarterback like he was, that’s incredible. He’s explosive, he’s strong, he blocks to the whistle, and he finishes. … If you had a checklist, he checks pretty much every box, I would say.”
Marich said losing the top-rated player in the state to the likes of Alabama isn’t desirable, but it’s something Michigan fans wouldn’t be surprised by. UK?
“Would it sting or hurt if he picked Kentucky? For sure,” Marich said. “I don’t think Michigan fans are holding their breath for him at all.”
Michigan is the only in-state school listed among Rogers’ finalists but the Wolverines are considered a dark horse in his recruitment. UK, the first FBS school to extend an offer to Rogers, has already defeated Michigan for Marquan McCall, a four-star prospect in the 2018 class and a former teammate of Rogers’ at Oak Park. Deandre Square, another native of the Detroit area, is someone else whom Rogers has ties to on Kentucky’s roster.
“Those guys had a chance to come in and play as freshman and those guys are on a path of being starters, and possibly being able to play at the next level, and those are pretty important things to Justin, a chance to go to the pros and a chance to compete early,” Trieu said. “I think Kentucky offers that to him.”
Whether Rogers chooses UK, Alabama, Michigan or any of the other schools he has narrowed down to, his recruitment, in a sense, could just be getting started. About seven months stand between Rogers’ commitment date and Dec. 18, the first day of the early signing period.
Trieu thinks that could be the case, but also noted an early announcement might work in favor of whichever school he chooses.
“For him to fully shut the door in May seems unlikely,” Trieu said. “I will say, however, that there’s no reason for him to make a commitment this early if he doesn’t feel ready. He’s a kid that could wait all the way to the second signing day if he wanted to. So the fact he’s committing right now, I think he at least feels comfortable with where things stand at the moment.”