Isaiah Rodgers, UMass eager for home opener vs. Southern Illinois

Chicago News USA

UMass senior cornerback Isaiah Rodgers pinpointed how important Saturday’s home opener against visiting Southern Illinois is for the rebuilding Minutemen program.

“It’s huge. It’s the first weekend of school, and the first home game for the new coaching staff. So we want to give the entire (UMass) community a ‘W’,” said Rodgers, who picked off two passes among four pass break-ups during last week’s 48-21 loss at Rutgers.

Saturday’s game (3:30 p.m.) marks the 132nd home opening football game for UMass and the Minutemen boast an 81-45-5 record. Since Warren McGuirk Alumni Stadium was built in time for the 1965 season, the Minutemen have opened up there 52 previous times and have gone 36-15-1.

The Southern Illinois and UMass have met once previously back on Dec. 1, 2007 when SIU captured a 34-27 victory in the NCAA Division 1-AA playoffs in Carbondale Ill.

Rodgers, who played at Blake High School in Tampa, Fla., has relied on football acumen to offset his smallish stature (5-foot-10, 170 pounds). Rodgers, who has nine career interceptions, also returns kicks and is rapidly moving up the all-time charts.

“I think the biggest thing with Isaiah is that he’s exceptionally fast. He’s one of the most explosive guys that I’ve ever coached,” first-year UMass coach Walt Bell said. “He’s really a great leader for us. Even if he’s not vocal, just the way he approaches practice, and in the locker room, everyone knows that he’s a great upperclassman to have around. He’s a real playmaker, who is pretty good when he gets the ball in his hands.”

Rodgers, who was chased by schools like the University of Buffalo, Tulane, and Eastern Michigan before eventually deciding on UMass, said his effort against Rutgers was merely a result of paying attention to detail.

“I just went back in the locker room and talked to the coaches and they told me to focus and do my job. I just wanted to do what I could to help the team try to win,” the 21-year-old said.

Southern Illinois (0-1) opened its season with a 44-26 loss at Southeast Missouri. The Salukis gave up 529 yards (281 rushing, 248 passing) and allowed six plays of 25 or more yards.

“We weren’t able to stay with them punch-for-punch,” Southern Illinois coach Nick Hill said.

Salukis senior tight end Nigel Kilby caught two passes for 49 yards (24.5 avg.) and a long of 33 despite drawing close coverage from the Redhawks defenders.

“They’re a pretty good team. They have some pretty good athletes,” Rodgers said. “They have a tight end who is about 6-foot-8. So they have some pretty good ballplayers.”

“Offensively, they are very similar to us. Their head coach is an offensive guy and they’re going to be a real challenge to us. They really like to move (Kilby) around so we’re going to have to really watch him,” Bell said.

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