Amanda Dorchock didn’t want her son to delude himself.
Bryson Rodgers had already had a chance to play top-level college football, and he was so coveted that Georgia coach Kirby Smart and Alabama coach Nick Saban both helicoptered down on the Wiregrass Ranch football field High School in Wesley Chapel, Florida to watch him play.
But the 2023 wide receiver kept waiting, eager for that offer to bring him home.
Dorchock recalls when Rodgers’ dream started to take hold in January, when he showed her a Twitter direct message from Ohio State wide receivers coach Brian Hartline.
From that moment, everything fell into place for Rodgers.
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Hartline flew down to see Rodgers race in person a week later and extended a scholarship offer. Three months later, Rodgers was courtside at Ohio Stadium, watching the Buckeyes’ spring game with no intention of committing himself to any more official visits already scheduled.
“As soon as he went to Ohio State, though, I knew,” Dorchock said.
It didn’t matter that Ohio State was 33rd of Rodgers’ 45 total bids. That’s what he wanted, committing immediately to the Buckeyes, becoming the first of four wide receivers in their class of 2023.
It was the Warren, Ohio native’s chance to join the pipeline of talent where he felt he belonged.
Bryson Rodgers finds motivation before size
Brandon Rodgers recalls playing backyard soccer with his son Bryson for hours.
“He could get the ball 30 yards as a 4 year old with no problem,” Brandon Rodgers said. “I knew it could take, but I didn’t know how fast it was going to be in terms of course and everything.”
“I knew that if he could at least get the ball, we had something to work with.”
Even though Bryson Rodgers and his family moved from Warren to Tampa for “better opportunities,” he knew soccer would play a part in his future.
“It hit home as soon as I got my hands on it,” said Bryson Rodgers. “It was pretty much a sensation once I was young and I’ve been racing with it ever since.”
The motivation stemmed from the move, Brandon said, as his son had to work harder to be accepted ahead of many other Florida players, focusing on earning a college scholarship while other players focused on youth trophies.
But Bryson didn’t have the size.
Heading to Wiregrass Ranch, he was a 6-foot wide, 135-pound wide receiver with his sights set on making the varsity football team.
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It was then that Dorchock saw the potential of his son’s route to the next level, seeing him excel against bigger players even though he hadn’t “got into his body” yet.
“After his freshman year, I was just convinced,” Dorchock said. “Like, I don’t know if it’s going to be Ohio State or whatever, but it’s definitely going to put its heart into it and whatever it does, it’s going to play next level.”
What Brian Hartline saw in Bryson Rodgers
Mark Kantor saw the potential right away.
Leading up to Bryson Rodgers’ sophomore season, the Wiregrass Ranch coach watched the receiver gain 30 pounds to develop into an almost unstoppable offensive weapon.
“People tried to cover it twice, tried to (play) man to someone over the top, and he just beat it all up,” Kantor said.
In 26 varsity games over three seasons, Rodgers recorded 29 touchdown receptions on 110 catches, according to MaxPreps, while carrying 1,625 receiving yards while averaging 62.5 yards per game.
He’s what colleges across the country saw: a tall, wide receiver who could walk any path in the meld tree with top-level off-ball ability and line up wherever the offense needed him to play.
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That’s what Bryson Rodgers said Ohio State’s Kye Stokes saw when he tackled the receiver at Armwood High School in Seffner, Fla., asking the Buckeyes coaching staff to look at the receiver when he first came to the program as the first subscriber.
That’s what Hartline told Rodgers he expects to see from Ohio State wide receivers, noting the versatility of players like Jaxon Smith-Njigba, Chris Olave, Garrett Wilson and Jameson Williams.
“Those are his guys, and his guys are very versatile,” Rodgers said. “They can be anywhere on the field just making plays and it sure seems like the most important part of taking defense out of their game is playing the playmaker at any point.”
Bryson Rodgers aims to build fellowship in the state of Ohio
While Bryson Rodgers spent most of his life in Florida, Brandon Rodgers said his son still developed a love for his home state whenever he returned home to visit family in Warren.
“He’s had a love for it ever since he knew what Ohio meant to him,” Brandon said. “People there are like blue collars, and they all work hard. And it’s a brotherhood, you know?
“He understood brotherhood and all that it takes to be part of a team. This is what actually made him love Ohio so much.
For Bryson, that brotherhood became a major reason Ohio State was the right place for him, saying Hartline’s “true personality and character” set him apart from every other coach he spoke to.
It’s something Bryson Rodgers intended to continue as the class continued to build.
Though he didn’t speak to Brandon Inniss, Carnell Tate or Noah Rogers during his recruitment, Rodgers said his goal was for the four of them to start bonding as soon as the “elite group” was secured.
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Rodgers said the bond started between him, Tate and Inniss at the Notre Dame game, while Rogers was added when the four attended the Michigan game.
“We just want to be the best group in the country,” Rodgers said. “As a group, not individually, I feel the state of Ohio thrives on that, having the best groups in the country, not just a single receiver. We just want to be the best group we can be, we want to compete and bring out the best in each other.”
Even though Rodgers saw Ohio State lose to Michigan, it’s a brotherhood that doesn’t change based on a loss.
“Adversity will strike,” Rodgers said. “We’ve dominated that game for the past two decades… so there are going to be some bumps along the way. But I feel like this is a great stepping stone not only for us recruits, for us contractors, but for Ohio State football in general. Practically a wake-up call.
Bryson Rodgers is one of the ‘specials’
No matter where Bryson Rodgers is, Kantor knows what people around him will achieve.
He will be the same player he was at WIregrass Ranch, the coach said: a level-headed wide receiver where nothing is too big or too small, who constantly improves and is consistently the last person to leave the training field.
“These are things you can’t find in a lot of guys,” Kantor said. “The special ones have it.
Dorchock just can’t believe it’s time for Rodgers to do it in Columbus.
His son will be heading to Columbus in January after a tumultuous school year, balancing an increased workload to ensure he can graduate early while also serving as a leader on a youth soccer team.
But he knew it was something his son could handle.
Dorchock said her son was by her side as she battled breast cancer from January 2016 to late 2020, calling Rodgers “mentally strong” for her and calling him “her rock.”
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“He was there for me,” Dorchock said. “He’s been there for me.”
Family has always been at the forefront for Rodgers.
“What (football) could do for you and your family is life changing,” he said. “Even the moment you enter college with NIL, just the opportunities for you, but also your family and the ways you can enlighten yourself and your family’s life.”
Rodgers now has the ability to do it in his home state, for his dream college football program, something he still considers unexplained.
But Dorchock could explain how his son feels. He knew that his son had found the place where he was supposed to be.
“It felt like home,” Dorchock said. “She told me, ‘This is home, mom.’ “
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This article originally appeared in The Columbus Dispatch: Bryson Rodgers prepares to join Ohio State football in January