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Inspired by late father, Jake Rodgers pursues dream to play professionally

After All-America season at EWU, Jake Rodgers pursues dream to play as a pro. (Dan Pelle)
After All-America season at EWU, Jake Rodgers pursues dream to play as a pro. (Dan Pelle)

Jake Rodgers is moving forward, but not without a bittersweet look back.

The former Eastern Washington offensive lineman is in southern California this week. On Saturday he’ll play in the NFLPA Collegtiate game in Carson, California.

He’s chasing a lifelong dream to play professionally, a dream that was nurtured by the father he lost last month.

“Whenever I asked him to be at a sports event, he was there,” Rodgers said of his father, John, who died Dec. 26, two weeks after suffering a heart attack while watching his son play his final game for the Eagles.

“My dad was always interested in my sports, whether it was baseball, basketball or football – just throwing the ball around,” said Rodgers, who starred at Shadle Park High School and Washington State before transferring to Eastern in the spring of 2013.

Rodgers said he was embraced from the start in Cheney, but never so tightly as on Dec. 13. Late in the Eagles’ playoff loss to Illinois State, the elder Rodgers was rushed to Sacred Heart Medical Center.

He was followed by Jake and his family, which extended to dozens of coaches, players and others. Immediately after the game, head coach Beau Baldwin rushed to Sacred Heart.

“He just wanted to help out any way he could, and that just means a lot,” Rodgers said.

In the days that followed, dozens of players joined the Rodgers family at Sacred Heart, a gesture that so overwhelmed Jake and his family that he “couldn’t respond to everyone.”

A week after John Rodgers died at the age of 54, hundreds gathered for a memorial service in Spokane. “It meant a lot to my family,” Jake said.

Even Eastern’s opponents have reached out. In last weekend’s FCS title game, the Illinois State players wore helmet decals with the number 65 – Rodgers’ uniform number.

Last week, Jake attended Tom Shaw’s football camp in Kissimee, Florida. After Saturday’s game, he’ll fly back to Florida for more training.

The 6-foot-6, 315-pound Rodgers was an FCS All-American and helped the Eagles finish first in the FCS in scoring offense (44.1 per game) and first downs (361 total), second in passing efficiency (163.52), third in total offense (513.4) and second in passing offense (328.2).

Rodgers had the highest game grade on the EWU line during the regular season at 93 percent and led the team in knockdown blocks with 55. He started 18 games in two seasons at Eastern, and another 12 at Washington State in 2012.

Rodgers said he “hopes to have the opportunity to play somewhere,” either in the NFL or elsewhere.

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