Much like it did last season with receiver Dominique Johnson, the Cal Poly football team is getting another transfer from a Bowl Championship Series conference to bolster its offense.
West Virginia running back Mark Rodgers said he is transferring to Cal Poly to play for head coach Tim Walsh, the man who recruited Rodgers out of Leuzinger High in Lawndale to play at Portland State.
With two years of eligibility left, Rodgers would be immediately eligible under NCAA transfer rules and appears ready to step right in for a running backs corps that loses its top three rushers to graduation.
“I know no position is handed to anybody,” Rodgers said. “I just have to come in working hard and earn my spot, show them why I should have the number one position, come in and try to play and be a big impact on the team.”
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Since he is a Division I transfer recruit, Rodgers will not be turning in a national letter of intent on Wednesday’s start of the signing period, when the rest Walsh’s second recruiting class at Cal Poly will be announced.
Johnson, who transferred from UCLA last summer, was the Mustangs’ leading receiver in his first season in San Luis Obispo. His 43 catches, 741 yards and six touchdowns were all at least double the totals of anyone else on the team.
Rodgers spent the past two seasons at West Virginia, mainly getting on the field as the team’s top kick returner.
A 5-foot-8, 175-pounder with 4.4 speed, Rodgers averaged 22.9 yards per return last season with a long of 51.
Cal Poly averaged 16.8 yards per kickoff return last season with a long of 34.
Rodgers rushed seven times for 9 yards for the Mountaineers in 2009 but as a freshman in 2008 had 80 yards on 15 carries.
In his junior and senior seasons combined at Leuzinger, Rodgers rushed for 4,819 yards and 50 touchdowns.
He was an all-state selection and the L.A. County League Player of the Year as a senior.
In 2007, Rodgers placed fourth in the 100-meter dash at CIF State Track and Field Championships, running a time of 10.5 seconds.
His decline in rushing opportunities at West Virginia and the decision by Mountaineers star running back Noel Devine to return for a senior season spurred Rodgers’ decision to transfer.
“I didn’t want to waste another year of not playing and just wait until my senior year,” Rodgers said. “I’d rather come back home and play.”
Rodgers nearly played for Walsh coming out of high school in 2007, when he made a verbal commitment to Portland State, where Walsh was the head coach.
But when Walsh left to become the offensive coordinator at Army and was replaced by Jerry Glanville, Rodgers decided to stay home and sit out a year.
Rodgers said the decision did not have as much to do with the coaching change as it did his desire to make sure his mother and younger brother Taylor Jackson, who was 6 years old at the time, had a man in the house.
Lorilei Jackson, Rodgers’ single mom, works separate jobs at an elementary school and as a TSA worker at Los Angeles International Airport.
Rodgers decided to sacrifice a year of football and take part-time classes at L.A. Southwest College while he waited for older brother Lance Broadus to wrap up his senior season at Washington State and return to the area.
“I love my family,” Rodgers said. “I would do anything for my family. Instead of playing football, I wanted to stay.”
His mother “feels like she doesn’t need the help,” Rodgers added. “She would rather have me gone to Portland State, but I don’t feel like that.
“It wasn’t really an argument. I just told her how I felt. She didn’t mind me helping her.”
It all seemed to work out when Washington State and West Virginia showed interest in Rodgers despite him sitting out a full year.
It was a step up from the interest he received from Portland State, Sacramento State and Idaho State as a high school senior.
Rodgers initially thought of trying to get back into Portland State, but when he heard Walsh was now at Cal Poly, the Mustangs shot to the top of his list.
Cal Poly coaches are prohibited from commenting on potential transfers until they sign scholarship agreements and enroll in classes, but Rodgers said he’s sure of his decision.
He said he visited Cal Poly last week, and after reconnecting with Walsh he decided not to pursue any opportunities with the Vikings.
“He was a nice guy from the jump,” Rodgers said. “I knew I wouldn’t mind playing with him from the first moment I met him.
“It was beautiful up there. I felt like I can play well in the offense. I’ve visited Portland State before. I just didn’t meet the staff yet. I just didn’t want to waste their time.”