STRINGER, Miss. (WDAM) - Three years ago, Cooper Rogers was a self-described “150-pound kamikaze” willing to do just about anything he could to get on the football field for Stringer High School.
“I just wanted to play,” Rogers said during a break in a recent summer workout. “I played my heart out to prove that I was good enough to be on the field.”
In just a few weeks, Rogers will not only be on the field but front and center as a two-way starter when the Red Devils open the season Thursday, Aug. 22 at Bay Springs High School.
“Our main focus is to just get better and progress each day,” said Rogers, a senior running back/linebacker who was selected as Stringer’s “Player of the Pine Belt.”
“We’re conditioning real hard because we don’t have much depth, so we’ll have people playing offense and defense.”
Which is nothing new at Class 1A Stringer, where the roster annually runs between 30 and 40 players.
“We graduated a big class of seniors last year,” said Marion Cascio, a 10-year veteran of the high-school coaching ranks who will be making his debut as a head coach. “We have five returning seniors. “We have a pretty good group of young guys who have stepped up, got some experience last year and will be in starting roles this year.”
Which makes players like the 5-foot-9, 185-pound Rogers indispensable.
With the departure of running back Anthony Thomas (1,717 yards, 20 touchdowns), Rogers is projected to improve on the 464 yards and three touchdowns he logged as a junior when he averaged 7.1 yards a carry on 65 carries.
He also finished third with 43 tackles and recovered two fumbles.
“He’s a four-year starter,” Cascio said. “We featured him at running back last year and he did us a good job last year. But he’s also our (strong-side) linebacker. He doesn’t come off the field.
“Guy’s got a good motor. He’s a good leader, in the fieldhouse and on the field.”
The Red Devils finished 11-3 last season, marking the fifth time in the past eight years Stringer had won 10 games or more.
Stringer, which won three consecutive state crowns from 1990-92 before adding a fourth in 2012, was bounced from the 2018 playoffs in the second round by eventual state champion Nanih Waiya High School.
“There’s a lot of people who expect good stuff out of you and for you to play your best,” Rogers said. “I try and do that.”
Cascio, who spent the past three seasons as an assistant at Stringer, acknowledged the high expectations the Red Devils shoulder.
“There’s probably pressure on the coaches and the kids,” Cascio said. “The last several years, we’ve been very, very successful, the last two years especially, when we won double digits each year.
“So, I feel a little pressure, and I think anyone else would, too. But everybody has bought into what I’m trying to sell them, and that’s the main thing.”