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Armani Rogers: An Oral History:

All eyes on Armani: How ‘The Franchise’ became UNLV football’s best hope

Expectations are high for UNLV’s heralded quarterback as Rebels open the season by hosting Howard

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L.E. Baskow

UNLV’s QB Armani Rogers tosses the ball as football practice begins during their fall camp on Friday, Aug. 5, 2016.

Armani Rogers

UNLV QB Armani Rogers looks to his receiver during UNLV's first spring practice of the year on Wednesday, March 1, 2017. Launch slideshow »

Armani Rogers, a 6-foot-5 redshirt freshman quarterback, is the most hyped UNLV football player in decades.

His father, Sam Rogers, was a linebacker drafted by the Buffalo Bills in the second round of the 1994 NFL Draft. After seven seasons in Buffalo, he signed with the San Diego Chargers and moved his family — including six children — to the Los Angeles area.

That’s where Armani, the fourth of five Rogers boys, would attend Hamilton High School and grow up to become UNLV’s best hope for a program turnaround.

Those closest to him say he’s been preparing for this moment almost his entire life. That moment is at 6 p.m. today when the Rebels open the season against Howard at Sam Boyd Stadium.

• • •

The storytellers

Sam Rogers

Armani’s father, NFL linebacker (1994-2003)

Ernest King

Head coach, Hamilton High (2010-2015)

Seka Edwards

Former offensive coordinator/QB coach, Hamilton High

Jericho Flowers

UNLV defensive back, Hamilton graduate

Ty'Jason Roberts

UNLV defensive back, Hamilton graduate

Russell Shaw

UNLV receiver, Hamilton graduate

•••

SAM ROGERS

Armani started playing football around 8 years old. He would always stay with me and try to mimic everything I was doing. He was a loving kid. Outgoing, very polite, quiet spoken. It was a football family, but it was something all of them naturally decided to do. I never pushed it on them.

JERICHO FLOWERS

Me, Armani, Ty’Jason, Russell … It’s crazy because we all grew up together since we were 7 or 8 years old. We all played in the Snoop League together, we all grew up together; our families knew each other.

TY’JASON ROBERTS

That’s a brother to me. The first time we played together was on the Inglewood Jets when I was 7 years old. I played running back and linebacker, Armani played quarterback and linebacker.

RUSSELL SHAW

We go back to our Pop Warner days, 11 or 12 years old. At that time I just knew he was a good friend. I didn’t know his dad played in the NFL or anything until I really got to know him.

SAM ROGERS

He was really more of a baseball player growing up. He always played up a division. At the time he was 10, he was playing with the 12- and 13-year olds and he was hitting home runs with them. There’s a park in L.A. where he still has the record as the youngest player to hit a home run.

ERNEST KING

He played baseball as well as football, and he was an amazing baseball player. He was a special baseball player.

SAM ROGERS

He was probably one of the best quarterbacks in Los Angeles at that age. There was a lot of hype around him, to the point where Snoop Dogg recruited him to play in his league. A lot of people were recruiting him to play in their youth leagues, a lot of organizations were calling me because his reputation had started to grow.

TY’JASON ROBERTS

You know a football player when you see one. You can see a player, and you know the difference between somebody that’s going to leave football at some point and someone that’s going to be in the game for the rest of their life. Armani was a football player.

RUSSELL SHAW

He was always bigger than everybody on the team, always the tallest one. But he played quarterback. He just stood out immediately.

ERNEST KING

When he was playing Pop Warner football, we used to always call him “Superstar.”

• • •

Armani played his freshman year at Crespi High School, then transferred to Culver City as a sophomore. In search of a better fit, Rogers enrolled at Hamilton for his junior and senior years. His childhood friends followed him to Hamilton.

ERNEST KING

I’ve known Armani since he was in elementary school. His dad used to coach with us at Hamilton and his older brothers played at Hamilton, so Armani had been around that program his whole life.

SAM ROGERS

I wanted my son to be labeled as a smart quarterback, not just an athletic quarterback. He started at Crespi, and the coach got fired. I took him to Culver City and asked the coach if he could put Armani up under center once or twice a game, and he said he couldn’t. His three brothers graduated from Hamilton, and the coach there knew exactly what I was looking for.

TY’JASON ROBERTS

When it was time for me to transfer, we all talked and we all agreed that Hamilton would be the best fit for us.

RUSSELL SHAW

I transferred to Hamilton for my senior year, which was Armani’s junior year. I went because of Armani. I knew he was going there, and I wanted to play with him because I knew we could do big things.

SAM ROGERS

When he was leaving Culver City, so many schools wanted him. Long Beach Poly, Chaminade, Catholic Central and some others. But I knew Hamilton.

ERNEST KING

We had high expectations as soon as we saw him. I had lost contact with him while he was at other high schools, and when I saw him again he was 6-foot-5. I was like, “Oh my God, where did this height come from?”

SEKA EDWARDS

He’s capable of being a drop-back passer, and he has the legs to run and scramble when he has to. We opened up and expanded our offense because we had a quarterback like him who could do it all.

ERNEST KING

We ran a spread offense, and we kind of tailored it around him. We had to showcase him. We threw the ball, and we would call plays where he could keep the ball and tuck the ball and go, and if the receivers were covered he’d just make plays.

ERNEST KING

His long ball was great. He can really throw it long. The receivers used to say he threw the ball too hard. On short passes, quick slants, five-yard stops, passes like that, he’d kill ’em.

JERICHO FLOWERS

He took control of the offense. That’s one thing that I saw from Culver City to Hamilton. Armani came in and took control. He made sure everything was right in the huddle, he made sure his receivers were lined up right and he made sure if we weren’t doing something right, he let us know.

ERNEST KING

When it was time to hit, we wanted to make sure they understood what contact was so at game time nobody was scared. Armani would want to do 1-on-1’s because he wanted to pop somebody. Sometimes he’d run to contact and we’d say, ‘Armani!’ But he’d tell us he wanted to run him over.

SAM ROGERS

You’re not going to get “Rah rah!” out of Armani. He’s a very mature kid. He’s handled things differently even from a young age. At 8 years old, you’d see him not fooling around, not talking trash. He would just go out and do his job.

SEKA EDWARDS

He developed into a vocal leader when he got comfortable and when he began to realize how good he was and how much talent he had.

• • •

Hamilton lost its first three games of the 2014 season. They had gone 11-22 in the three previous seasons, so doubts were beginning to creep in.

SEKA EDWARDS

Hamilton was always a tough, competitive team, but in the previous years it wasn’t at the championship level that Armani brought when he got there.

JERICHO FLOWERS

Coming into Hamilton, the team they had from the year before wasn’t used to winning. It was more like they didn’t have hope. We came out with a losing mentality. Nobody was fighting. That’s why we lost our first three games.

SEKA EDWARDS

Because Armani didn’t speak a lot, when he did talk people listened. Once he understood his voice was powerful, he began to see the importance of speaking up.

TY’JASON ROBERTS

After that third game, we got back to the locker room and we had to talk as a team. We had to pick it up or we were going to have a losing season, and we didn’t want that.

RUSSELL SHAW

Armani stood up and said something. That carried a lot of weight because of his role on that team and how seriously he took it.

JERICHO FLOWERS

There would be arguments. You don’t get the ball enough — you know how that goes. There was a time I was wide open, and he didn’t throw me the ball. I came back into the huddle and told him, and he kicked me out of the huddle. With me being one of the team leaders, I played a big role just like him, but I felt that was big from him, to kick me out and bringing me back to a place where I needed to be so that he could lead the offense.

SEKA EDWARDS

Once that leadership emerged, it was easier for the rest of the team to fall in line. And that’s when we started to turn things around.

• • •

From that point on, Hamilton won its final 11 games, including four playoff games and the L.A. City Section Division II championship.

JERICHO FLOWERS

In the playoffs against Southgate, he hit me in the back of the end zone for a touchdown. Just a beautiful ball to the back pylon.

RUSSELL SHAW

I caught three touchdowns in the championship game, and he threw them all to me. The first play was like a pass to the fullback, but the fullback was covered. I was running to the corner, but then I saw Armani scrambling so I came back and he found me. The second one was a little 20-yard seam where he saw me at the last minute. The third one was on a post on third down. All great throws.

JERICHO FLOWERS

To me, his best ball was to Russell Shaw in our championship game. He was scrambling and threw it on a rope, a comeback to Russell. He had about half a yard to keep it inbounds, but he threw it in there and Russell turned and scored.

RUSSELL SHAW

Once we got going that year, we didn’t really think anyone was going to beat us.

• • •

Rogers finished the season with 35 total touchdowns — 28 passing and seven rushing — and only three interceptions. He attracted a stream of college recruiters from top-tier Division I programs.

JERICHO FLOWERS

When his junior year started, that’s when he started to take off with offers.

ERNEST KING

It was a steady plethora of college coaches coming to see Armani. A lot of scouts came to the games and came to the sidelines.

SAM ROGERS

Notre Dame had him fly out there. Cal, Arizona State had him in. I was alongside him through the whole process. After the UNLV visit, I said I liked UNLV and he didn’t understand why. He committed to Cal.

JERICHO FLOWERS

I really thought he was going to go to Cal, because that’s where he committed early, but then their offensive coordinator left.

SAM ROGERS

He’s already committed to Cal, and then come signing day, Cal’s offensive coordinator had resigned, ASU’s coach left to be the Memphis head coach, and the UCLA coach took a coordinator job at Texas A&M. UNLV was still there, and I was like, ‘Yes!’

• • •

Rogers reopened his recruitment and played his senior season as an uncommitted prospect. Hamilton regressed to a 4-6 record, but despite playing with a depleted roster, Rogers grew as a quarterback. He completed 64.5 percent of his passes while throwing for 18 touchdowns and one interception.

SEKA EDWARDS

As a senior, he really got more involved in the game-planning and play-calling. There were times when we’d say, ‘Hey, you call it.’ Or he would look at us and point to himself, letting us know, ‘I got this one.’

ERNEST KING

He made a bad read one time, and he came back to the sideline and before we could say anything, he said, ‘I know where I’m supposed to throw the ball. My bad.’ He learns fast because he wants to learn.

JERICHO FLOWERS

He would make adjustments all the time. If somebody was playing off me, he already knew the route he wanted to check into. He reads the game very well. He’s a smart quarterback.

ERNEST KING

In the Palisades game, we sent the play in and he saw them playing off the receiver, so he changed the play at the line of scrimmage. I was like, “What the …?” Then he threw a touchdown, and I said, “Oooooookay.” He came to the sideline, and he said, “I had to do it coach, they were giving it to us.”

• • •

After his tremendous season, it was again time for his college decision. UNLV had never stopped recruiting him, and eventually the Rebels emerged as his top option.

SAM ROGERS

You want a coach to be there for at least three years of your career. With coach Sanchez, I figure his dream job is probably to be in the Pac-12. He’s a Cali guy. That’s natural. But in order to be in the Pac-12, he’s going to have to show he can win. I told Armani, coach Sanchez is going to give you everything he has because he wants to be successful.

JERICHO FLOWERS

(During his senior year), I saw he was really interested in UNLV and its growth as a program.

RUSSELL SHAW

I went to junior college, and I was talking to him every day. He seemed to really like UNLV.

SAM ROGERS

Once he saw the whole process, he started to realize, “I think my dad knows a little bit about football.” He started to understand why I liked UNLV from the start. He saw that UNLV could give him everything he wanted.

JERICHO FLOWERS

When he ended up signing here, it was crazy. I never thought all four of us would be at the same school again.

RUSSELL SHAW

When he told me he was coming (to UNLV), I talked to the coaches and they told me I could be a preferred walk-on. That’s when I transferred here.

SAM ROGERS

He’s so much happier now that he chose UNLV.

• • •

After a redshirt season, Rogers is now the unquestioned starter and the face of the UNLV program, all before he took a single college snap. The people who know him best believe he is ready to shoulder that weight.

SEKA EDWARDS

When he was a kid, we used to call him “The Future” or “The Franchise.” We knew even back then what he was capable of.

RUSSELL SHAW

I think he could dominate this league.

TY’JASON ROBERTS

He looks like an upgraded version of himself. In training camp he’s been giving me (and the rest of the defensive backs) a lot of work. I’ve seen nothing but pure accuracy from him this camp.

JERICHO FLOWERS

If I were giving the receivers advice, I would tell them to communicate with him. Tell him what the DBs are doing, tell him what’s working, tell him what’s not, tell him how to get you the ball because he wants to learn and get to know his receivers.

SAM ROGERS

He’ll call and say, “How did I look?” He wants my approval, and I tell him as long as you give 100 percent, my approval will always be there. He’s just a thoughtful, loving kid.

TY’JASON ROBERTS

He’s going to have a huge impact on this team. I feel like he’s going to be a legend here.

Mike Grimala can be reached at 702-948-7844 or [email protected]. Follow Mike on Twitter at twitter.com/mikegrimala.

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