By Perry Lefko
International receiver Eric Rogers is back playing in the Canadian Football League and he couldn’t be happier. In fact, he is hoping to finish off his career in the CFL, specifically with the Calgary Stampeders.
Rogers starred for the Stamps in 2015, leading the CFL with 1,448 yards, placed fourth with 87 receptions, tied for the league lead with 10 receiving touchdowns and was voted a CFL All-Star.
His stellar season earned him a contract with the San Francisco 49ers, but he tore an ACL in training camp and missed the entire season while placed on injured reserve. He was subsequently waived by the 49ers in 2017 and did not play football that year while working to build up his knee.
But when he was looking for employment this season, the Stamps were more than happy to bring him back in June and give him all the time he needed to make sure his knee was ready.
He has played in four of the Stamps’ five games this season, missing week five because his knee was bothering him, but rebounded strongly last week with nine catches for 113 yards and posted one touchdown. Overall, he has 20 catches for 314 yards and four touchdowns. He is gradually becoming the clutch receiver he was before he left the CFL.
Rogers returned to the Stamps because of the comfort level of having been with the organization before and having the same head coach/offensive co-ordinator, Dave Dickenson, starting quarterback, Bo Levi Mitchell, and same receivers’ coach, Pete Costanza.
There have been many CFL players who have gone to the U.S. and returned for various reasons and re-signed with their former clubs because of an affinity for the organization, the city, teammates or some other factor. Some players have returned and signed with another team. The ability to have the choice is what makes it interesting. Equally important is the CFL welcoming back former players, many of whom find the experience they had prior to leaving for the NFL is something they missed and why they are happy to return.
“As far as knowing the CFL game, it was easier to transition back into Calgary than to coming up here in 2014 (after playing in the Arena Football League),” he said.
It helped that the Stamps were willing to allow Rogers all the time he needed after signing with the team to make sure he felt physically ready to play. Because of what he had done in the past, Rogers had earned that respect from the organization.
“That was one of the biggest things about coming back here,” he said. “I was familiar with a lot of things. The coaches understood I hadn’t played (in awhile), but they kind of know me as a player and I know them as coaches and how they practice and what we do at practice. I think it was easiest to come back to Calgary and ease into it that way rather than go to a new team and have to prove myself to the new coaches because they don’t know me. Getting familiar with my surrounding as well, the city, the locker room, the equipment guys and all that kind of stuff. That probably would have been too much to take in.”
Rogers endured the mental and physical pendulum swing in his brief NFL experience. About six months after signing the contract with the 49ers, he suffered his knee injury and was suddenly wondering about his future. The NFL dream had been stalled, if not over.
“I was just thinking, ‘okay, this year is lost, I will hopefully be able to come back next year and play,’ but it was a little bit more complicated than that, obviously,” he said. “I’m still dealing with some aspects of the injury. We changed coaches in San Fran, too, and I wasn’t able to stick around there to get another surgery. Anyone who has a knee injury or needed knee surgery has definitely had days thinking, ‘man, I don’t know if I can get through this.’”
“And you have days where it feels good, but the next day it’s back to feeling bad. It’s a long roller-coaster.”
Costanza had been quoted in a 2017 article saying that when Rogers was done chasing the NFL train, the team would welcome him back with open arms. Rather than sign with an NFL team after the second surgery, which cleaned out some scar tissue, Rogers chose to play it safely. And the Stamps, true to their word, expressed their interest.
Rogers is proof that if a football player wants to play professionally it can happen, even if the road looks rocky and uncertain along the way. After starring for a Division III school in the United States, Rogers was bypassed by the NFL. He had an unsuccessful tryout with Ottawa and then played in the Arena League, earning a chance to sign with Calgary and prove himself.
“It meant a lot to play professional football in a league that has been around for over 100 years,” he said. “It gave me an opportunity to get another opportunity to play in the NFL. My health wasn’t the best obviously but being able to come back to the CFL, because I’ve played here before, was easier than if I would have got hurt in the NFL and not played in the CFL. If I would have been coming off an injury with no CFL experience two years after I last played, I definitely don’t think I would have come back to the league. Everything happens for a reason, so I came full circle, I guess.”
When he enrolled in university, he had no aspirations of playing professionally. He wanted to play four years, earn his degree and begin a career outside of football. But his coaches told him midway through university that he had drawn interest from CFL and NFL teams and if he continued to work hard and stay healthy he had a chance of playing professionally. At that time, he knew very little about the CFL, but he’s embraced it.
“It’s definitely meant a lot to me just to be able to play this game as long as I have,” he said. “I have friends that say, ‘man, you’re still playing. That’s cool.’ The Stampeders’ organization is top-tier. Anyone who has been here has always said that.”
He is also content in not having to be the feature receiver.
“It’s not like that’s my goal because we have great receivers this year,” he said. “I don’t need to be the top guy for us to be successful and that’s a good feeling. We’re a balanced team.”
He said the NFL is “pretty much” out of his system.
“I’m 27 and will be 28 in February, and if you’re not one of those top-tier guys that’s already proven themselves in the NFL you don’t really get a second opportunity,” he said. “I had a great opportunity and my knee didn’t hold up, but it is what it is. If I would have been able to prove myself a little bit back then, then maybe I would have been able to stick around the team as an outside receiver who can come in and help guys and stuff like that. It didn’t work out that way, but I’m back up here. I’m very fortunate to be able to come back to the CFL and play. Hopefully I can play a couple more years. We’ll see how it goes.”