When Mac Jones was six years old, he wanted to play for Corky Rogers.
A Florida high school football coaching legend, Rogers was tough on his players at the Bolles School in Jacksonville, expecting excellence and never playing favorites — a bit like Jones’s future coaches at Alabama and in New England, Nick Saban and Bill Belichick.
Jones spoke about his relationship with Rogers, who passed away in February 2020, on ESPN’s “Sunday NFL Countdown” ahead of the Patriots’ matchup with the Titans.
“He connected with so many people,” Jones said. “It wasn’t all about him, it was all about everyone else and how he could affect people, and he left that impact on a lot of people.”
As a young quarterback, Jones found out the hard way that things wouldn’t come easy at Bolles.
“It was hard for me just because [Rogers] was very tough on me, and I’m already hard on myself,” Jones said. “If you hold the ball too long in practice, he’d sit there and look at you and be like, ‘If you hold it any longer, it’ll hatch!’ So it always made me get the ball out fast.”
How often does he think about that now?
“A lot,” Jones said with a laugh. “Almost every time I get sacked, I’m like, there it is. Held the ball too long.”
Rogers, the state’s all-time wins leader at the high-school level with 453, coached at Bolles for 27 years. The Bulldogs reached the state championship game in 2016 with Jones under center, but Rogers’s health was declining in his final season at the helm.
“I knew halfway through my high school career that he wasn’t doing great,” Jones said. “As time went on, he would coach us out of the golf cart, and I was kind of like, okay, he’s not doing as well because he would almost always be on the field. But he still never missed a practice.
“I know that my senior year, there were days that he should not have been out there, and he just battled through it.”
Jones went off to Alabama as Rogers settled into retirement. But in January 2020, before Jones took over as the full-time starter, doctors had discovered cancer in Rogers’s kidneys. He went into hospice care.
In February 2020, Rogers was no longer taking visitors. So friends, family, and former players sent letters — more than 150 in all — to keep in touch. One of the last came from Alabama’s new starting quarterback.
“Coach Rogers: We talked on the phone after the season, and I’m so glad we did. You have led thousands and thousands of men, and turned them from boys to men, myself included,” Jones wrote. “I am dedicating this season to you, Coach, and I will give it everything I’ve got.”
The letters were read to Rogers by his son-in-law, Clint Drawdy, who could see Rogers tearing up at Jones’s letter.
“He just kind of turned his head, and had his emotional peace to him,” Drawdy said. “And the commitment of Mac to dedicate his season, it was just beautiful.”
Rogers died Feb. 26, 2020. He was 76.
With his old coach on his mind, Jones made the most of the season he dedicated to Rogers, throwing 41 touchdowns and leading the Crimson Tide to their 18th national championship.
“He taught me the value of a team, and being a team player,” Jones said, before reading the letter’s conclusion himself.
“They say you cannot teach toughness, but you taught me toughness. I live by your favorite quote: ‘The only thing you can control is your attitude and your effort.’
“I love you, Coach.”
Amin Touri can be reached at email@example.com.