Jayden Rodgers was browsing the internet and didn’t like what he saw.
Despite having a 39-inch vertical leap and running the 40-yard dash in 4.38 seconds, the senior wide receiver and defensive back for the Olentangy Orange High School football team said he discovered that he was rated only as a one-star college recruit on a five-star scale.
Rodgers was surprised, but he decided to use the low rating as motivation this season. He approached coach Zebb Schroeder and asked if he could turn in his No. 3 jersey for No. 1.
The change serves as a constant reminder of how hard Rodgers has to work to get to where he wants to be, and he has started the season strongly. The 6-foot-1, 176-pounder had two interceptions in the first three games for the Pioneers, who are 3-0 for the first time since 2009 after defeating Dublin Jerome 31-7 on Sept. 8.
“I looked up my scout rating and I’m considered a one-star, so I changed my number to ‘1’ because apparently I’m a one-star athlete,” said Rodgers, who was special mention all-district in Division I and first-team all-OCC-Buckeye Division last season. “One is the worst (on the five-star scale). Personally, I don’t care about stars, but being a one-star athlete just made me drive harder and made me work even harder than I was before.”
Rodgers’ primary role is at cornerback, but he also has five receptions for 53 yards and one touchdown.
“We play him both ways to the extent that we don’t want to take away what he does defensively,” Schroeder said. “It depends on who we’re facing or the weather or some other factors, but we have to make sure he’s stretching the field vertically (on offense) because he’s such a weapon. You’re talking about a kid with elite high-school speed.”
Last spring, Rodgers was runner-up in the 110-meter hurdles (14.09) in the Division I state track and field meet. He holds the program record of 14.01 from his performance in a state preliminary heat.
“I like football a lot better than track. I’m just good at track so I do it,” Rodgers said. “I also like playing defense better than being on offense.
“I believe that a regular person couldn’t just go play defense. Not everyone on a football field has the intangibles to just go and hit someone. A lot of people don’t like being hit. I think (hitting on defense) prepares me more when I’m playing offense because I know how it feels to get hit, and I can protect myself a little better.”
Rodgers said a good defensive back needs to use his eyes, in addition to his speed, to make plays. He pulled down an interception on the season’s third play during a 32-7 win Aug. 25 at Worthington Kilbourne.
“That was a really good feeling,” he said. “I know I was in man (coverage) and I saw the quarterback throw it up and I went up to get it. That’s really it. I think the team was more excited than I was to be honest.
“I like being in man coverage because I’m a really competitive guy and I know that when I’m in man I have no help from a safety. It’s just me and that other person out there on the field.”
Orange goes for a fourth consecutive win Friday, Sept. 15, at Big Walnut, which holds a 6-3 edge in the series. The Pioneers have won the last two meetings, 47-0 last season and 21-14 in 2015, and they also won 10-0 in 2012.
The road toward that fourth win starts with focused practices, an area in which Rodgers excels.
“Jayden is a really good practice player,” Schroeder said. “You hope your best players value practice like he does, and it sets a tone for the rest of the team. When you have guys that have a competitive spirit like that, it makes for a good practice
Rodgers, who has received offers from Ball State and Notre Dame College in South Euclid, said practicing hard will help him get to the next level.
“I love practice. Practice is where you get better,” he said. “It’s how everyone gets better. It’s how you win games.”