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Life comes full circle for OSU football legend, graduate Jacquizz Rodgers

Jacquizz Rodgers was a three-time All-American running back for Oregon State from 2008-10. Afterward, he stayed connected to the university by taking classes online through OSU Ecampus during a productive pro career. (Photo courtesy OSU Athletics)

Ex-Beavers running back worked toward his degree online while playing in the NFL

By Tyler Hansen
March 15, 2021

At Oregon State University, we have a term for students who put their education on hold for a year or more.

We call them stopouts. They’re not “college dropouts,” because they haven’t quit on their dream of earning a degree. Life happens, and many students simply need to focus their attention elsewhere.

They take on demanding jobs.

They care for their children.

They battle health issues.

Sometimes they go play in the NFL for nearly a decade.

Jacquizz Rodgers fits into this last category. He’s one of the most beloved and accomplished sports figures in Oregon State history. Since he arrived on OSU’s Corvallis campus as an 18-year-old freshman in 2008, he has piled up the accolades: three-time NCAA All-American, Pac-10 Offensive Player of the Year, workhorse NFL running back.

And now? College graduate.

It was a long, on-again, off-again journey, as it is for a significant number of adult learners. In that way, even a world-class athlete like Rodgers is no different than his Oregon State peers. In other ways, of course, he stands out.

Rodgers played for the Atlanta Falcons, Chicago Bears and Tampa Bay Buccaneers across eight seasons in the NFL.

He declared for the NFL draft after his junior season in order to capitalize on his elite talent and college success. His blend of speed, power, quickness and good hands made it a career opportunity he simply couldn’t let pass.

In one major life decision, Rodgers bet on himself twice — to live in the moment and pursue his dream of playing professional football, and to plan for a future that included his academics.

“When I left school early, it was a promise I made to my mom and my uncle that I would finish my degree,” he says now. “I have kids and I have nephews, so it’s not about that I played in the NFL and don’t need a degree. It’s more about showing them that having grit is important. You can play football at the highest level and also finish your education.”

The rigors of playing in the NFL — the physical, mental and emotional toll — cannot be overstated. It is a demanding profession, even with the million-dollar salaries. Rodgers could have waited until his playing days were over to return to school.

But it didn’t take long for him to become a student again. Immediately after helping the Atlanta Falcons make the playoffs as a rookie in 2011, he enrolled in classes online with Oregon State Ecampus. He resumed his path toward earning a bachelor’s degree in human development and family sciences, taking classes periodically.

The work-study balance was perfect.

“As soon as the off-season came, I would start taking my classes. That would help me stay mentally ready,” Rodgers says. “Instead of just lounging around and working out, it kept me on a complete schedule and kept me disciplined and focused outside of football.”

That’s not to say that it was smooth sailing and a quick waltz toward degree completion. As is the case with many working adults who learn online with Oregon State, Rodgers was enrolled in Ecampus classes one term here, two terms there. He even took a break for nearly three years as he established himself as an important piece of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers offense.

All told, he spent eight highly productive years in the NFL. After playing his final season in 2018, Rodgers dedicated himself to his academics and had a renewed focus on learning.

“I became more of a student-athlete instead of an athlete-student. When I was in school (from 2008-10), I was younger and I was playing football and trying to get by,” he says. “Now that I’m a little older, I try to take what I’ve learned in my classes and apply them as life skills. That’s the biggest difference.”

The other notable change, he says, is that Ecampus courses are much more hands-on than they were when he took a few online as an on-campus student.

Jacquizz Rodgers runs football camps in Texas and Oregon each summer for youth players.

“It’s more of a feeling like you’re in the class,” he says. “You’re giving presentations and interacting with your classmates. I really liked that.”

As fate would have it, a classmate in one of his final classes was Steven Jackson, another iconic Beavers running back and one of the top rushers in NFL history. Jackson also completed his HDFS degree online through Ecampus in summer 2020 — one quarter before Rodgers did.

With his playing career behind him, Rodgers is focused on the next phase: coaching. His goal is to help guide younger generations at either the high school level or in college as a running backs coach. He runs summer camps in his native Texas and in Oregon each year for youth players through his community-based Jacquizz Rodgers Foundation. Serving as a mentor suits him well.

But first, one task remains in his college career. He plans to attend Oregon State’s next in-person commencement ceremony at Reser Stadium in Corvallis. There he will accept his OSU diploma on the same field where he became a local legend and a national star.

“That’s crazy, I never even thought about it like that,” Rodgers says at the sudden realization of life coming full circle. “Wow, that will be special. That’s the place where I had success and really started my life and career in a big way.

“To be able to have this type of ending at Reser, that’s going to be great.”

Jacquizz Rodgers was a featured speaker in the OSU Alumni Association and College of Liberal Arts Changemakers webcast series. The series features inspiring conversations with Beavers who are making a difference. Visit the OSUAA website to view Rodgers’ Oct. 12, 2020 event.

1 Comment

  • Fjell Thomas says:

    I”ve never met Jacquiizz Rodgers, but I’ve seen him play at OSU. As a life-long teacher I can say, “I wish we had more teachers like Jacquizz Rodgers.” He is the kind of dedicated, motivated role model that we need for our students. Please, Jacquizz, get your MEd, and teach!
    Fjell Thomas
    Koyuk Malimiut School
    Koyuk Alaska

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