Mark Rodgers was standing on the sideline when the call came.
The junior running back, eager to finalize his transfer from West Virginia, was watching the Cal Poly football team begin the walkthrough of its afternoon practice at the I-Field on Thursday.
He passed an online math course necessary to get into to the university a few days ago. All he needed was the official acceptance, and it came via head coach Tim Walsh’s cell phone.
“I just ran into the locker room and suited up,” said Rodgers, who got in about two hours of practice with the rest of the team in helmets and shorts.
“I mostly just kind of sat back and watched the plays,” he said. “Coach was telling me what plays it was and everything. I didn’t want to get out there and mess up. I took a couple reps. Other than that, I think I’m catching on.
“I thought I would be more stiff, but I feel pretty loose getting back on the field.”
In their second practice of the day, the Mustangs were going without pads. They will resume with full pads today while Rodgers, a 5-foot-8, 175-pounder with 4.4 speed, will have to go one more day in just a jersey.
By rule, he’ll then have to spend two more days in half pads, and might not get to suit up in full until Wednesday, which means he’ll have to miss Cal Poly’s only scheduled preseason scrimmage Saturday at 2 p.m. at Alex G. Spanos Stadium.
But teammates were just happy to see him in uniform, ready to put all the uncertainty surrounding his arrival behind.
“Our situations were a little similar with him coming from a bigger program,” said senior receiver Dominique Johnson, who transferred from UCLA prior to last season. “We just connected … Now he’s finally here, so we’re real happy campers.
“We’re just excited to see him out here, finally have him in uniform and have his gear on. We’ve waited a long time.”
Rodgers had already missed nine-and-a-half days of fall camp and comes onto the scene already trailing junior back Jarred Houston, a Mustangs track standout and converted receiver, and true freshman Chris Nichols at the C-back position in Cal Poly’s triple option.
Rodgers was known mainly as a kick returner for the Mountaineers, averaging 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.
In two years running the ball at West Virginia, Rodgers had 22 carries for 89 yards, but in his junior and senior seasons combined at Leuzinger High in Lawndale, Rodgers rushed for 4,819 yards and 50 touchdowns.
Walsh, who recruited Rodgers in high school while he was still the head coach at Portland State, said Rodgers has enough time left before the Sept. 4 season opener against Humboldt State to earn playing time, but it won’t come easy.
“He’s got to beat them out,” Walsh said. “Football’s a competition game, and things aren’t going to be handed to him. He has to earn his keep.
“He’s football smart. That’s the impression we’re getting day one, but the toughest part is not the volume of what we do. It’s how we do the motions and all the things that go along with it that he has to learn.”