Give Steven Rogers some credit.
When Columbia County's public schools open their doors today, Rogers will be behind enemy lines, and he'll have more friends than foes.
"At first it was kind of weird," Rogers said of becoming a student at Evans High School after spending the previous two years at Lakeside High.
"It's been great," he said of Evans, the school he loved to loathe when he was a standout athlete at Lakeside. "I like it here a lot. I fit in well, and the people here are great, too."
When it comes to prep rivalries in Columbia County, Lakeside vs. Evans might top the list.
Being the tenacious competitor that he is, Rogers jumped into the fray in 2000.
After playing his first basketball game against Evans during his sophomore season at Lakeside - and losing to the Knights - Rogers said, "I hate them already."
Now things have flip-flopped. Lakeside's football and basketball players may now view their former teammate as a "Benedict" Rogers of sorts.
But the person who is expected to be one of the top senior football players in Columbia County this fall has more in common with Will Rogers - the new Knight never met a man he didn't like.
"My friends at Lakeside always joke about it, but there are no hard feelings," he said. "I still hang out with my friends at Lakeside. They throw some jabs, but it's all out of love."
An affable personality has helped ease the transition.
"Everybody just loves him being around," said Lee Chomskis, head football coach at Evans. "He's not one of those guys that rubs anybody the wrong way. I haven't sensed any negativity at all. Even those who are probably going to get a little less playing time because of his presence are excited that he's here."
Still, some observers have scrutinized the move with a skeptical eye.
"I'm sure there is a little animosity toward the situation," Chomskis admits. "It's a concern for everyone in the county when it effects them. The same scenario has happened to us - we've had kids leave here and go elsewhere."
Rogers says there are many reasons for the transfer to Evans, but didn't want to cite specifics.
He did offer, "People don't know as much as they think they know. They just jump to conclusions."
During the 2001 prep football season, Rogers was jumping to haul in passes. As a junior, he was by far the top receiver in the CSRA, and established Lakeside records in receptions (63) and receiving yards (889).
In addition to his penchant for pinching the pigskin, Rogers is a dangerous return man on special teams.
Just as Rogers is elusive on the gridiron, it's equally hard to get a handle on why he would want to switch schools prior to his senior season.
"Only Steven and his family can truly answer why Steven has decided to come to Evans High School," Chomskis said.
In order to attend Evans, Rogers had to move in with his sister, who is now his legal guardian. In turn, parents Steven and Kim Rogers had to relinquish legal guardianship of their son.
Football factors into the complex equation - Evans plays in Region 7-AAAAA, which consists of Atlanta-area teams; Rogers believes that will provide a better opportunity for him to be seen by college recruiters.
Also consider the respective offensive approaches expected from Lakeside and Evans this season - the Panthers may rely primarily on a run-oriented attack, and the Knights plan to pass - or at least they did until starting quarterback Travis Clark suffered a broken leg at practice last week.
Family ties also played a part - Evans offensive coordinator Dave Machovec is Rogers' uncle.
"I wouldn't be playing football if it wasn't for him," Rogers said of Machovec. "I didn't play until my sophomore year, when he talked my mom into it, thank God."
It seems to all come down to being in the right place at the right time, and for Rogers, that would be the Cox Road campus.
"What was done is in the best interest for Steven and his family, and his future," Machovec says. "This is not a negative toward Lakeside."
Over at Blue Ridge Drive, life goes on, according to Lakeside head football coach Randy Hill.
"That's behind us - we mentioned it a while back, and it's been dropped," Hill said of losing his star receiver. "If he doesn't want to bleed maroon, he doesn't want to be here. He probably fits in better at Evans. That's probably the bottom line."
Hill puts a positive spin on the situation, adding, "Now we don't have that one elite guy, and it's probably going to bring our team together a little tighter."
Meanwhile, Chomskis stands to benefit, but he doesn't want to throw salt on the wounds.
"I wouldn't wish that on any coach in America," he said. "You don't want to see anybody lose that caliber of athlete, but in the same breath, we're excited about having him and we're going to utilize his ability. He certainly makes us a better football team."
While the words "traitor" and "turncoat" don't really make an impact on Rogers, he realizes his former Lakeside teammates will try to have a jarring impact on the football field when the Knights play the Panthers on Sept. 13.
The rumor is that Rogers will have a price on his head when Lakeside visits Blanchard Stadium.
"It could get dirty," he said. "I don't think they'll go out of their way to hurt me. They'll just make sure I don't beat them."
When Rogers was a freshman at Augusta Christian Schools, he was primarily interested in beating opponents on the hardwood. He's still a sharp-shooting guard in basketball, and will play hoops at Evans.
Although he's now at his third high school in four years, Rogers isn't confused - he knows football is his No. 1 sport.
This summer, Rogers honed his skills by attending football camps at University of Georgia, South Carolina, Auburn, Georgia Tech, Middle Tennessee State, Troy State and Furman.
Thanks to good hands and ample speed, Rogers has drawn interest from several college football programs.
A strong senior season could secure a scholarship offer from a Division I squad, but Rogers is more concerned with the immediate future.
For now, he'll bleed black and gold.
"It's not all about recruiting; it's mainly about the team," Rogers said. "I want to do my best to help Evans go far in the playoffs. I think we're going to have a great season."
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