By Randy York
Hall-of-Famer Tom Osborne coached two Heisman Trophy winners, and Nebraska's athletic director says one of them, Johnny "The Jet" Rodgers, wanted to be a cornerback, but was talked out of it in the early 1970s. Mike Rozier, the other Heisman winner Osborne coached, was a fullback in high school in Camden, N.J., so he rarely touched the ball. That's why Osborne was a bit surprised himself when Rozier, who ran the wishbone at Coffeyville (Kan.) Junior College, ignored a heavy wave of new recruiters and kept his commitment to Nebraska after spending one year at Coffeyville.
Rodgers and Rozier made Nos. 20 and 30 jerseys famous at Nebraska, and now those two numbers are among eight signed by living Nebraska College Football Hall-of-Fame members. Rodgers bested Greg Pruitt and Hall-of-Fame teammate Rich Glover in 1972's final Heisman voting. Rozier won convincingly over quarterbacks Steve Young, Doug Flutie and teammate Turner Gill. Here are Osborne's recollections of No. 20 Rodgers and No. 30 Rozier, both of whom finished first in Heisman voting 11 years apart:
Johnny Rodgers: "Johnny had as much athletic ability as anyone I've ever coached. He weighed between 170 and 175 pounds and was amazingly strong. At one point, he went into the weight room and bench-pressed 300 pounds, and I don't think he'd spent any time in the weight room before doing it. He had great leaping ability, great quickness and probably the best lateral movement of any player I've ever been around. He certainly was a great receiver for us, and he also was an excellent ball carrier. More than anything, he was a great kick returner. Whether it was kickoff returns or punt returns, he always gave us tremendous field position. I always thought that Johnny, just by himself, was worth maybe 10 points or 14 points a game because of his ability. One way or another, he would make that kind of a difference in the game. Very, very few, if any player can say that once you put that guy on the field, you're 14 points better. Johnny would have been a great running back, too, and he proved that when we started him at I-back in his last game against Notre Dame in the Orange Bowl. He would have been a great corner as well. Actually, he wanted to play both ways. He wanted to play corner and receiver. We always tried to downplay that, though, because he was doing so much for us in the return games. We just thought he would get beat down if we let him play both ways."
Mike Rozier: "Mike was a guy we thought was pretty good, but in high school he was a fullback in the wishbone, so he didn't carry the ball all that much. So when Frank Solich brought the film back, we looked at Mike and Irving Fryar, and neither one of them really touched the ball very much in high school. But they were both recommended highly by their coaches as being great athletes. Mike ran in the wishbone again down at Coffeyville and probably didn't get as many carries as he would in the I-formation. But he ended up attracting a lot of attention, and I respected the fact that Mike stuck with his commitment to Nebraska. He had all kinds of offers and some exceeded what would have covered books and fees. So when he honored his commitment to come here, I was really impressed. Besides his great balance and good strength, Mike had that ability to make you miss with less movement than anybody I have ever seen. Some guys will have to give you a couple of jukes to make some pretty large sideways movement, where Mike would just have to give you a little jab step and leave people hanging. So he had really good combination to make people miss with power and quickness. He had a great speed. I wouldn't say he had sprinter speed, but the speed he had was part of an excellent combination of skills. He had a lot of carries at Nebraska (668) and a lot of yards (4,780 to rank No. 1 all-time). He averaged over 7-yards a carry (7.16) and scored a lot of touchdowns (49). When you can hand the ball off to one guy and know he's going to average more than seven yards per carry, it made it really easy to be a coach. We had a very good offensive line and with a running back like Mike and a catalyst like Turner Gill at quarterback, I think we averaged 52 points and 550 yards a game in 1983. Let's put it this way. I don't remember us having very many third-and-eights that year."
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