Aug. 27—STARKVILLE — Kristopher Thigpen remembers his team cutting into the two-touchdown lead.
Thigpen — Terry High School's head football coach — saw his team regaining momentum in September 2019 with Will Rogers and his Brandon High School offense returning to the field. Another stop and Thigpen's team had a chance to steal this one.
Momentum soon swung back to Brandon as Rogers reached back to throw, turned to his left and unleashed on a backside post route and hit his guy on a sprint.
That's when it struck Thigpen.
"Yeah, that's next level," Thigpen said to himself.
Thigpen was in a spot all-too familiar to many of his Mississippi high school football counterparts having to go up against Rogers.
Starkville High School's Chris Jones saw how difficult it was to gameplan for a quarterback who got rid of the ball as quickly as Rogers did. Oak Grove High School's Drew Causey still thinks about the three or four perfect verticals Rogers burned him on.
Rogers was one of Mississippi's best at the high school level, following in the footsteps of his Brandon predecessors such as Gardner Minshew.
Two years removed from when Rogers last played a high school game, his opposing coaches watch from afar as his triumphs build in Starkville.
Mike Leach all but announced Thursday that Rogers would be Mississippi State's starting quarterback to open the season next week.
To Causey, it's not much of a surprise Rogers is an SEC starter.
He remembers Brandon's offense revolving around Rogers. Causey calls him extremely talented and says Rogers "threw a really good football." Combined with the work ethic and confidence Causey noticed, Rogers was well on his way in high school to get to this point.
Much of that has to do with Rogers' dad, Wyatt, coaching football.
Jones says it was surprising last season to see the role Will played as a true freshman, but with Wyatt raising him there was always something Will possessed that others didn't.
"His knowledge of the game is more than most kids his age coming out of high school," Jones said.
But there are qualities to Rogers that can't be taught — the same qualities many of his teammates have echoed throughout fall camp and his opposing high school coaches continue to praise.
"He is a natural-born leader," Jones says.
Rogers joined Thigpen on the coach's podcast last year, where they discussed a game from Rogers' junior year.
Brandon was facing Oak Grove with a trip to the state finals on the line. As soon as Thigpen asks what Rogers remembers from that loss, Rogers is dissecting what he did to cost his team.
"I did not play very well, at all," Rogers said. "I take full responsibility of that loss."
To Rogers it was just another instance of talking about that dreaded game. To Thigpen, it showed the natural leadership ability Rogers had.
"Taking responsibility for that loss is what the QB should do," Thigpen said. "He's the team leader. It shows a lot of maturity on his part."
These traits translate now to a higher level of expectation at Mississippi State.
The qualities must combine with execution, because when SEC opponents start building momentum or cutting into lead, it will be on Rogers to hit those backside routes to dagger MSU's foes.