It requires some context to understand Da’Rick Rogers’ decision to leave Georgia at the altar on the eve of national signing day and follow his best friend Nash Nance to Tennessee.
And make no mistake about it — Nance and his family are the primary reason Rogers signed with the Vols.
“The power of friendship is huge,” Rogers told the AJC’s Bob Andres after he signed his letter-of-intent with UT on Wednesday.
Despite coming from divergent backgrounds, Rogers and Nance are indeed the best of friends. They met while they were attending the Darlington School, a private boarding school in Rome.
“We’re pretty much like brothers, black and white brothers,” Rogers said in a previous interview with the AJC.
Said Nance: “He’s more like a brother than a friend. I’ll always be there for him.”
That close relationship extends to the Nance family, which happens to be one of the most successful and affluent families in Calhoun-Gordon County.
Bob Nance, Nash’s grandfather, founded Nance Carpet and Rug Company, Inc., in the early 1970s and grew it into a major player in the prevalent carpet and textile industry of Northwest Georgia. Mike Nance, Bob Nance’s son and Nash’s father, took over the business in the mid-1980s and runs it today.
Rogers was born and raised in Atlanta but moved to Northwest Georgia with his mother, Deborah Rogers, after his parents divorced. Rogers attended the Darlington School, a private boarding school in Rome, on an athletic scholarship.
It was at Darlington that Rogers met Nance. The two boys became close friends, as well as stars on the football team.
For reasons still unclear, Rogers was unable to continue his education at Darlington after his sophomore year. I asked Rogers to explain his departure in an interview this past November.
“Well, mainly they wanted me to be a leader throughout the school,” Rogers said. “And it was kind of hard because it was conflicted with me being a bigger athlete and them not really seeing athletes like me around the school. People felt intimidated by me and that made it hard for me to be a leader around the school. I tried and it just didn’t work out. It was just kind of like bashing heads all the time.”
It was on the suggestion of Mike Nance that Rogers ended up at Calhoun High School.
“I knew Nash Nance and I knew his dad really well; we were best friends at the time,” Rogers said. “[Mike Nance] said, ‘Calhoun has a great program. Instead of going back to Atlanta you can come up here and I can look out for you and help you out.’ So I came up here and that’s been the best move for me.”
Since then, the two boys have been inseparable and Rogers has become almost like another member of the family. Rogers spends the night over at the Nances “two or three times a week,” Nash Nance said. He also takes vacations with and spends holidays with the family.
Rogers refuted claims that he actually lived with the Nances for a period of time.
“I never stayed with him,” Rogers said. “We have our own house here in Calhoun. But I’m always over there hanging out with him, spending the night, just spending a lot of time with him.”
Nance remained at Darlington his junior year but transferred to Calhoun for his senior season. It was a somewhat controversial move that resulted in the Yellow Jackets’ starting quarterback from the previous season, Michael Johnson, quitting the team. Johnson had led Calhoun to the state championship finals the previous year. The Yellow Jackets lost in the state finals again this past season.
This past summer, Nance and Rogers were together again. In early June, they held a joint news conference to announce their college choices. Nance, a 4.0 student, said he was going to sign with Vanderbilt. Rogers put on a Georgia hat and said he was going to be a Bulldog.
Eight months later, neither young man followed through.
Both remained, in their words, “rock solid” in their commitments to their original schools through the New Year. It wasn’t until Jan. 5 that Tennessee’s Lane Kiffin and Ed Orgeron slid into Calhoun — bypassing the accepted protocol of informing the high school coach they were there — and introduced the possibility of Nance and Rogers coming to Knoxville as “a package deal.” After meeting an hours-long meeting with both players at the Nance home, the Vols coaches convinced them to take an official visit to UT together on Jan. 22.
That offer exposed the soft underbelly of those “rock-solid” commitments. Mississippi State, Louisville and Arkansas all came forth with similar offers in the following weeks. And after Kiffin jetted to USC in mid-January, new Tennessee coach Derek Dooley and his staff came right back to Calhoun and re-extended the offer.
Playing together had been something the boys had discussed before. They actually brought it up with Georgia first. But they were informed long ago that the Bulldogs did not intend to sign a quarterback in their 2010 recruiting class.
However, Georgia ended up offering and accepting the commitment of Lassiter quarterback Hutson Mason just before Christmas. That did not sit well with the Nances.
“After they offered Hutson Mason I wasn’t really thrilled with them,” Nash Nance admitted last month.
Mason set a state record with 4,560 yards and 54 touchdowns last season and ended up being named Gatorade Player of the Year in Georgia. Nance threw for 3,018 yards and 29 touchdowns as a senior. Rogers, his main target, established the state receiving record with 1,641 yards.
Even in the last two weeks of the recruiting period, Rogers maintained he was still committed to Georgia. “They don’t have anything to worry about,” he said. “They know I’m locked in.”
But when Nance decommitted to Vanderbilt and committed to Tennessee on Jan. 27, it was evident that Rogers was likely soon to follow.
He called Richt this past Tuesday to inform him he wasn’t coming to Athens.
“It was hard calling [Richt],” Rogers told reporters at his signing ceremony Wednesday. “Of course no head coach is going to be happy that they’re losing, I guess, their top recruit. He just said, ‘I wish you’d come. We’re still thinking about you. Your scholarship will still be there in the morning. I wish you’d rest on it and decide what you need to do to make you happy.’ ”
His friendship with Nance, Rogers admitted, was a major factor.
“Nash is his own person,” Rogers said. “But him being my best friend, by logic, it affects me. At the end of the day it was my decision. After listening to everything and what everybody had to say, I still had to sit down by myself and think about what I had to do and pray about what I had to do.”
The answer: Follow his friend to Rocky Top.
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