Bryson Rodgers returns home, aims to continue wide receiver pipeline at Ohio State

Amanda Dorchock didn’t want her son to get his hopes up.

Bryson Rodgers already had his chance to play high-level college football, and was coveted badly enough that both Georgia coach Kirby Smart and Alabama coach Nick Saban each landed helicopters on the Wiregrass Ranch High School football field in Wesley Chapel, Florida, to watch him play.

But the 2023 wide receiver continued to wait, eager for that offer to bring him back home.

Dorchock remembers when Rodgers’ dream began to pick up steam in January, when he showed her a Twitter direct message from Ohio State wide receivers coach Brian Hartline.

From that point, everything fell into place for Rodgers.

Ohio State football news:Sign up for the Ohio State Sports Insider text group with Dispatch reporters

Hartline flew down to watch Rodgers run routes in person a week later and extended a scholarship offer. Three months later, Rodgers was on the sideline at Ohio Stadium, watching the Buckeyes’ spring game with no intentions of committing with other official visits already scheduled.

Recruit Bryson Rodgers visits Ohio Stadium during the Ohio State, Michigan game.
Recruit Bryson Rodgers visits Ohio Stadium during the Ohio State, Michigan game.

“As soon as he went to Ohio State, though, I just knew it,” Dorchock said.

It didn’t matter that Ohio State was Rodgers’ 33rd of 45 total offers. It was the one he wanted, committing to the Buckeyes on the spot, becoming the first of four receivers in their 2023 class.

It was the chance for the Warren, Ohio, native to join the pipeline of talent he felt he belonged in.

Bryson Rodgers finds motivation before size

Brandon Rodgers remembers playing football in the yard with his son Bryson for hours.

“He could catch the ball from 30 yards at 4 years old with no problem,” Brandon Rodgers said. “I knew he could catch, but I didn’t know how fast he would be in terms of route running and everything.”

“I knew if he could at least catch the ball, we had something to work with.”

Even as Bryson Rodgers and his family moved from Warren to Tampa for “better opportunities,” he knew football would play some role in his future.

“It hit home as soon as I got my hands on it,” Bryson Rodgers said. “It was pretty much a feeling once I was young and I just ran with it ever since.”

Motivation stemmed from the move, Brandon said, seeing that his son had to work harder to be accepted ahead of many other Florida players, turning his focus to earning a college scholarship while other players focused on youth trophies.

But Bryson didn’t have the size.

Heading into Wiregrass Ranch, he was a 6-foot, 135-pound lanky wide receiver with his eyes set on making the varsity football team.

Why Garrett Stover chose Ohio State: Why Garrett Stover chose Ohio State: 'I’ve been wanting to be a Buckeye my whole life'

That’s when Dorchock saw the potential of her son’s path to the next level, seeing him excel against bigger players even while he hadn’t “come 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 he’s definitely going to put his heart into it and, whatever he does, he’s going to play at the next level.”

What Brian Hartline saw in Bryson Rodgers

Mark Kantor saw the potential right away.

Ahead of Bryson Rodgers’ sophomore season, the Wiregrass Ranch coach saw the receiver gain 30 pounds to mold himself into an offensive weapon that was nearly unstoppable.

“People tried to double-cover him, tried to (play) man with somebody over the top, and he just beat everything,” Kantor said.

In 26 varsity games across three seasons, Rodgers recorded 29 touchdown receptions on 110 catches, according to MaxPreps, bringing in 1,625 receiving yards while averaging 62.5 yards per game.

It’s what colleges from across the country saw: a tall wide receiver that could run any route in the combination tree with top-tier off-ball skills and line up wherever the offense needed him to play.

Ian Moore develops into OSU commit: How OL Ian Moore developed into Ohio State football's second 2024 commit

It’s what Bryson Rodgers said Ohio State’s Kye Stokes saw when he faced the receiver at Armwood High School in Seffner, Florida, asking for the Buckeyes’ coaching staff to look at the receiver when he first arrived to the program as an early enrollee.

It’s what Hartline told Rodgers he expects to see from the Ohio State receivers, highlighting the versatility of players such as Jaxon Smith-Njigba, Chris Olave, Garrett Wilson and Jameson Williams.

Wiregrass Ranch High School Bulls’ Bryson Rodgers catches a pass at the Florida High School 7v7 Association state championship in The Villages on Friday, June 24, 2022. [PAUL RYAN / CORRESPONDENT]
Wiregrass Ranch High School Bulls’ Bryson Rodgers catches a pass at the Florida High School 7v7 Association state championship in The Villages on Friday, June 24, 2022. [PAUL RYAN / CORRESPONDENT]

“Those are his guys, and his guys are very versatile,” Rodgers said. “They can be anywhere on the field just making plays and definitely feels like the biggest part of knocking the defense off their game is playing the playmaker in any spot.”

Bryson Rodgers aims to create brotherhood at Ohio State

While Bryson Rodgers spent most of his life in Florida, Brandon Rodgers said his son still developed a love for his home state every time he returned home to visit family in Warren.

“He had the love for it ever since he knew what Ohio meant to him,” Brandon said. "The people there are like blue collar, and everybody’s hard working. And it’s a brotherhood, you know?

“He understood brotherhood and everything that it takes to be part of a team. That’s what actually made him have love for Ohio so much.”

To Bryson, that brotherhood became an important reason why Ohio State was the place for him, saying Hartline’s “true personality and character” set him apart from every other coach he talked to.

It’s something Bryson Rodgers aimed to continue as the class continued to build.

While he didn’t talk to Brandon Inniss, Carnell Tate or Noah Rogers throughout his recruitment, Rodgers said it was his goal for the four of them to start bonding as soon as the “elite group” was secured.

Luke Montgomery prepares for OSU: Luke Montgomery slowly begins transition from Findlay to Ohio State football

Rodgers said the bonding started between him, Tate and Inniss at the Notre Dame game, while Rogers was added when the four of them attended the Michigan game.

“We just want to be the best group in the country,” Rodgers said. “As a group, not individually I feel like Ohio State thrives off 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 the best out of each other.”

Even as Rodgers watched Ohio State lose to Michigan, it’s a brotherhood that’s not changing based on one loss.

“Adversity is going to hit,” Rodgers said. “We dominated that game for these last two decades… so there’s going to be some bumps in the road. But I feel like this is a great stepping stone not just for us recruits, for us commits, but Ohio State football in general. Just pretty much a wake-up call.”

Bryson Rodgers is one of the 'special ones'

No matter where Bryson Rodgers is, Kantor knows what the people around him are going to get.

He’s going to be the same player he was at WIregrass Ranch, the coach said: a level-headed receiver where nothing is too big or too small, constantly improving and consistently being the last person to leave the practice field.

“Those are things that you can’t find in a lot of guys,” Kantor said. “The special ones have that in them.

Dorchock just can’t believe it’s Rodgers’ time to do that in Columbus.

Her son will be heading to Columbus in January after a tumultuous school year, balancing an increased workload to ensure he could graduate early while also serving as a leader on a young football team.

But she knew it was something her son could handle.

Dorchock said her son was by her side as she battled breast cancer from January 2016 to the end of 2020, calling Rodgers “mentally strong” for her and calling him “her rock.”

Will Smith Jr. has something to prove: 'I would never bet against Will Smith:' Why OSU's 2023 DT commit has something to prove

“He was right there for me,” Dorchock said. “He’s been there for me.”

Family’s always been at the forefront for Rodgers.

“What (football) could do for you and your family is pretty life-changing,” he said. “Even at the moment you get into college with NIL, just the opportunities for you, but also your family and ways you can enlighten you and your family’s life.”

Rodgers now has a chance to do that in his home state, for his dream college football program, something he still views as unexplainable.

But Dorchock could explain how her son is feeling. She knew her son had found the place he was supposed to be.

“He felt at home,” Dorchock said. “He told me, ‘This is home, Mom.’ ”

Get more Ohio State football news by listening to our podcasts

This article originally appeared on The Columbus Dispatch: Bryson Rodgers prepares to join Ohio State football in January