Hometown Report

October 26, 2013

Hometown Report: Troubled life ends at just 49

Trouble followed Reggie Rogers dating to his roots in Del Paso Heights. It defined him during his football and basketball days at since-closed Norte Del Rio High School, as an All-America defensive end at the University of Washington and as a first-round draft pick by the Detroit Lions in 1987.

His was a tale of talent, tragedy and heartache.

Profound heartache.

Reggie Rogers was found on the front porch of a house in Seattle on Thursday afternoon, unresponsive. Dead at 49. Media reports in Washington allege it could be drug related, and that's as sad as it was seemingly inevitable.

Trouble followed Rogers dating to his roots in Del Paso Heights. It defined him during his football and basketball days at since-closed Norte Del Rio High School, as an All-America defensive end at the University of Washington and as a first-round draft pick by the Detroit Lions in 1987.

But Rogers never had a happy ending, or middle or beginning. His path of promise was derailed by his own hand.

If there was ever a family destined for athletic stardom, it was this one. Don Rogers was the oldest, a model student and citizen who became an All-America safety at UCLA and All-Pro with the Cleveland Browns before his untimely death.

Reggie was the middle child, a year younger than Don. Sister Jackie was exactly a year younger than Reggie. If you picked an all-time area girls basketball team, Jackie would be on it: 6-foot-2 with shooting touch and the ability to rebound and run. Jackie is the last sibling left, and she, too, has battled demons.

Reggie Rogers admitted in interviews that he didn't have to bully kids in his neighborhood or school playground. At 6–foot-6 and 270 pounds, he got what he wanted with his mixture of surly and silly. When a fight broke out between Norte Del Rio and the farming-town school of Winters in 1982, Rogers was engulfed by opposing players. He said then that he was a victim, though witnesses recall that he was the one swinging a yard marker at all comers.

Rogers' undoing was that he could never comprehend right or wrong, or accept accountability. Powerhouse programs such as Oklahoma and USC withdrew football scholarships after the melee, but Washington took him for basketball.

With the Huskies, Rogers' pattern of recklessness escalated. He missed team meetings. He accrued thousands of dollars in parking tickets, arguing that he was a victim of discrimination. He got into fistfights on campus.

It was brother Don, his idol and best friend, who persuaded Rogers to drop basketball and return to football. He did, and Rogers had a dominating junior season at Washington in 1985. Then his world fell apart.

On Don's wedding day in June 1986, in the house he had bought his mother in Natomas, he died of a cocaine overdose. His mother, Loretha, raced onto the street and collapsed, shrieking, "My son is dead!" It was out of character for Don to even have a drink, dozens interviewed by law enforcement then revealed.

Reggie was with Don late the previous night. What did he know? What happened?

"Someday, I'll tell you what really happened, but I can't do that now because I'm still dealing with this every day of my life," Reggie said in a phone interview several years ago. He didn't want to go on the record for a story by The Bee on an anniversary of his brother's death. He added: "It hasn't been easy, ever, or being Reggie Rogers."

But hasn't much of that been your own doing?

Said Rogers, "That's what people think."

It also has been proven.

Rogers was picked seventh overall, still the highest by a local football player, by the Detroit Lions. But he never broke bad habits. He overslept for his first Lions meeting. He took a personal leave in October of his rookie season when Jackie and his truck were missing in Pontiac, Mich. Rogers was frantic.

He searched bars and eateries, even the morgue. Jackie emerged four days later. Years later, he told me she would disappear in an effort to emotionally connect with her late brother.

In October 1988, Rogers caused a horrific crash when he ran a red light in a large Jeep in Pontiac and slammed into the side of a smaller car that burst into flames. Three related teenage boys died. Rogers' blood alcohol level was more than twice the legal limit.

Rogers had his thumb surgically reattached to his hand. He also suffered two broken vertebrae and was placed in traction. He had a metal halo-brace screwed into his head to prevent movement. When told of his pending criminal charges and spending up to 40 years in prison, Rogers responded: "Why? What did I do?"

Rogers was found guilty only of negligent homicide. Because of more lenience then, he was sentenced to two years in prison but served just 16 months. The family of the victims never forgave Rogers. In media accounts, they also said he never apologized.

The Lions cut Rogers in 1988. The Bills signed him and released him after two games. Tampa Bay gave Rogers a shot, and he was cut after two games. Just like that, football was over. Rogers told me he never fully recovered from the loss of his brother, or his mother, who died in 2000 of a heart attack.

"Mom died more of a broken heart than anything," he said in our last interview about five years ago.

Rogers worked odd jobs, mostly construction, in Seattle the last decade or so. He delighted in his daughter Regina's basketball success at Washington. Rogers vowed to do his six kids proud, but he couldn't stay sober. He was arrested six times on DUI charges from 1999 to 2011 and spent more than five years behind bars.

At a sentencing in 2009, Rogers pleaded with the judge for leniency. The judge asked why. His defiant answer defined a lost soul.

"Because I'm Reggie Rogers," he said. "In case you don't remember, I once carried the entire state of Washington on my back."

Follow Joe Davidson on Twitter @SacBee_JoeD.

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