• John Macon Gillespie

Rodgers Rallies Wildcats, Readies For Fortius Project Competition

The Independence Wildcats will carry a whale of momentum into the 2018 season thanks in part to a playoff appearance last fall. But also thanks to the fact their QB1 James Rodgers, Jr. will be back after breaking four school records as a sophomore.

The rising junior, who highlights accuracy and arm strength as his best attributes, tries to emulate both Cam Newton and Aaron Rodgers. As a sophomore, his first as a starter at QB, he put forth his best impression by tossing 13 touchdowns, a school record. He plans to show off the skills that helped him do so at the upcoming Fortius Project combine at ICC.

“I plan on coming out and showing my skills and talents, and try to compare them to others,” Rodgers told SES Mississippi. “Also learning from other coaches and more experienced players.”

The other three school records Rodgers tackled in 2017 were TD passes in a game(4), longest TD pass(68) and career TD passes(13). The career mark of 13 touchdown passes is significant considering he has two years left to be the starting quarterback. And with the potential he flashed a season ago, combined with his desire to improve, he re-set many of the high marks he’s already set.

“I means a lot to me,” Rodgers said of breaking the school records.

“Improving my footwork is the main focus this offseason. I have to take practice even more serious and pay attention to my mistakes and correct them. I just have to have a strong work ethic and push myself to be better than last year.”

All in all, Rodgers threw for 962 yards to go with his 13 touchdown tosses. On the ground he added another 194 yards rushing and four scores. He mentioned appreciating Cam Newton’s ability to scramble, which is similar to how Rodgers used his own athleticism in 2017. He also added he likes how Aaron Rodgers lets plays develop downfield, which also something Rodgers was able to do a season ago.

For Independence this offseason is about building an offense around an improving Rodgers that can help out a defensive unit that will be recovering from losing big playmakers from a season ago. But Rodgers spoke about a closeness with his head coach, Richard Russo, and among his teammates that could lend a major hand to the Wildcats’ success on the gridiron.

“He’s like my second father. We’ve done a lot together. He has helped me through times where I wasn’t stable on and off the field,” Rodgers said of Russo.

“Most of us on the team live in the same neighborhood, so it’s like we have a family bond.”

In a column I wrote recently, I noted the success quarterbacks have had at the ICC stop on the Fortius Project camp circuit over the last three years. Rodgers is looking to join that group, and I believe he’s destined to do. The camp is set for Saturday, April 7th at Eaton field on the campus of ICC.

**Photo courtesy of Shelly Scott

#JohnLukeMcCord #Independence

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