COOKEVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Tennessee Tech wide receiver Da'Rick Rogers said he is maturing as a person. His football future depends on it.
The former all-Southeastern Conference standout, who said he left Tennessee after being suspended for positive drug tests, continues to show there is no question about his ability.
Rogers has 34 receptions for 562 yards and five touchdowns in Tennessee Tech's first five games. He already owns single-game school records for catches and receiving yards.
"It's the same old me, just in a more mature sense," the former Tennessee star said. "I have a different mentality about life and how you approach things."
Nobody questions Rogers' talent.
He led the SEC with 67 catches and ranked second in the conference with 1,040 receiving yards to earn all-conference honors with the Volunteers last season. Rogers was expected to team up with Justin Hunter and Cordarrelle Patterson this year to give Tennessee one of the nation's most dynamic receiving units.
Those plans unraveled less than two weeks before the start of the season when Rogers was suspended indefinitely. His transfer to Tennessee Tech was announced four days later. Because Tennessee Tech is a Football Championship Subdivision program, Rogers was eligible to play for his new team immediately.
Rogers remains a legitimate NFL prospect because of his rare combination of size (6-foot-3 and 206 pounds) and athleticism, but he can't repeat the mistakes that caused his move from the SEC to the Ohio Valley Conference. As a junior, Rogers would be eligible to enter the draft next year.
"It's your second chance, but it's your last chance," Rogers said.
His new teammates and coaches say he's making the most of it.
Rogers set school single-game records for catches (18) and receiving yards (303) two weeks ago in a 41-38 double-overtime loss to Southeast Missouri State. He is putting up his impressive stats despite facing constant double-teams and occasional triple-teams.
Tennessee Tech coach Watson Brown, who coached Atlanta Falcons star Roddy White at UAB, said he has never seen one receiver get this much attention from opposing defenses.
"No one can guard him in this league one-on-one," Tennessee Tech quarterback Tre Lamb said. "They know that. We're pretty much playing 10-on-9 because they have to put two people on him."
Brown said Rogers also is making the right decisions off the field.
Before adding Rogers to the team, Brown spoke with Tennessee Tech's seniors to make sure they had no problem with it. Brown then established ground rules with Rogers, though they won't specify the nature of those conditions.
"He's been perfect off the field," Brown said. "He's gone to class. He's doing what he's supposed to do. It's been fantastic. We've had not one issue with Da'Rick whatsoever. He's trying his best to mature."
Rogers picked Tennessee Tech in part because of his familiarity with the roster. He played at Calhoun (Ga.) High School with Lamb and Tennessee Tech running back Adam Urbano. Lamb's father is Calhoun High coach Hal Lamb, who spoke with Brown before the transfer was finalized.
"I think being dismissed by Tennessee has really opened his eyes," Hal Lamb said. "For him to get to the next level, which has been his goal since Day One, he was going to have to straighten up and start doing things the right way."
Having friends on Tennessee Tech's offense helped Rogers adapt. Three days after his transfer was announced, Rogers caught a touchdown pass in a victory over Hampton.
"It goes a long way," Rogers said. "I'm not concerned coming in what's my quarterback going to be like, what's my running back going to be like. I'm good with that. The only thing I have to focus on is staying clean, staying straight with everything that's going on, learning the playbook and making plays for my team."
The biggest adjustment involves his surroundings.
After performing in a stadium with a seating capacity of 102,455 last year, Rogers has played in front of fewer than 10,000 fans in three of his first five games this season.
"Football's football," Rogers said. "You just line up and play ball. But you can never replace the atmosphere, the Vol Walk and all those things. Running through the 'T' (with) 100,000 people screaming, it gets pretty crazy. That's the biggest thing. It took a while to adapt, but it's been good here. Everyone here has welcomed me as family."
One thing his new team and old team have in common is both are winless in conference play. While Tennessee has lost its first two SEC games without Rogers, Tennessee Tech (2-3, 0-2 Ohio Valley) has struggled as its injury-ravaged defense has allowed 43.8 points per game.
Rogers believes his new team will improve, and he also continues to follow his former squad. But he still hasn't contacted any Tennessee coaches to establish closure in that relationship.
"I haven't talked to them," Rogers said. "I probably will along down the line as the season's ended. Right now, I'm just letting the coaches do their thing."