Rodgers, Bigelow get rare chance to play

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SAN ANTONIO -- It was Sept. 21. Exactly 100 days ago.
That was the last time that Elkton (Md.) Eastern Christian teammates Kenny Bigelow and Khaliel Rodgers played a high school football game.
The 54-0 victory over Severn (Md.) Archbishop Spalding -- a team with no Division I-level players -- concluded the season after just three games. The program was refused sanctioning by the Maryland Public Secondary Schools Athletic Association, which caused its remaining opponents to clear it off the schedule.
As the two prepare for the U.S. Army All-American Bowl on Saturday, Jan. 5, the competition level will be a step up from their last on-field experience. They said rust is not a concern.
"No way, I'm not worried. Not at all," Bigelow said. "We still went out and practiced every day like we had a game that Friday."
Bigelow is a 6-foot-3, 295-pound defensive tackle at Eastern Christian. The USC commit, who is ranked No. 12 in the Rivals100, added that he hasn't skipped a day in preparations for this event.
"We train all year round, so I didn't miss anything other than the games," he said. "I have been working out and I have been in my own pads, so I don't think this will be anything new. It's still football."
Eastern Christian played its 2011 season as Bear (Del.) Red Lion Christian, but the football program separated when the administration said it believed the sport was taking too much control at the school.
David Sills IV -- father of the team's quarterback, David Sills, who made national headlines as a seventh grader committing to USC -- financed the move.
He partnered with National Connections, a nationally accredited online institution, to design and oversee a curriculum for the 46 football players. The players did not have a brick-and-mortar building to attend, nor did they have many of the other amenities of a full-time campus.
Reports surfaced that the MPSSAA cited concerns that the school did not meet certain qualifications -- including that none of the players lived in the state, the coaching staff was assembled by Sills and not National Connections, and that the players were not adhering to the curriculum.
Following the ruling by the MPSSAA -- and an article in Sports Illustrated on Aug. 27 -- opponents dropped the team and prematurely ended the senior seasons for the two Army All-Americans, five other Division I commits and nearly a dozen other prospects in the classes of 2013 and 2014 with offers.
Rodgers, a 6-feet-3, 300-pound interior offensive lineman headed to USC, said the loss was felt more by the younger players.
"For me, I am fine," he said. "I kept practicing and kept grinding, but those other guys lost a lot of opportunities.
"I helped coach a winter team of younger players and so I have been able to be around football, but not everyone was able to do that."
Rodgers said his readiness for a field full of players who had a full season -- and have talent equal to his own -- is not an issue.
"It won't be a factor for me," he said. "I am ready to go. I am always ready to play and get out there and do my thing."
He will have to be prepared to go against a West roster that features A'Shawn Robinson, Eddie Vanderdoes and Justin Manning, among others.
On the other side of the line, Bigelow said that going against a great group of offensive linemen will be a welcome opportunity.
"It may take me a few reps to really pick up the speed, but that is all," he said. "In the game it may be a slow first series, but I will show what I can do."
He will have a chance to shine against Kent Perkins, Reeve Koehler and Deon Mix, among others.
The biggest message that Bigelow sent on Sunday at registration was that if any of those opponents thought he was not prepared to come full speed, they would quickly learn the contrary.
"It will be on them if they are underestimating me," he said. "I will be coming hard."
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