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  • Writer's pictureJenn Brown

Jamie Rodgers leads Bradford football to FHSAA Class 2S Final

Jamie Rodgers’ life took a different turn two years ago when he received a call from a 904 number.

On the other line was the Bradford County School Superintendent Will Hartley. Rodgers’ life was dominated by coaching, but come January 2022, he kept being drained.

Rodgers was about to work in telecommunications for T-Mobile yet Hartley requested him to coach Bradford High School football team.

The Macclenny native immediately accepted to play.

23 months after, Rodgers returned to his native sunshine state whose Tornadoes play Friday for the Class 2S State Championship.

How Bradford made the state final: Bradford Wins in OT, En Route to 2AIO.

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Hartley has been one of the biggest support systems for Rodgers and what he told me after hearing what happened. “I’m forever indebted to him, because he let me keep doing what I love do, what I think am called to do.”

Bradford will take on a familiar foe as well in Cocoa, which eliminated the Tornadoes 31-21 at Starke in last year’s state semifinals. The Tigers eventually won the programs fifth state title a week later against Florida High.

It’s been a whirlwind for Rodgers over the last six years, including transition, personal tragedy and finally comeuppance as Friday night’s 8 p.m. final marks a full circle moment.

"Program Revitalizer"

The term “program revitalizer” describes Rodgers well, and his stops before Bradford proved that.

That saw him start his career in 2012 at Suwannee, a program that had not been to the play-offs since 2003. He later left in 2015 after he made it to state final four and regional finals.

Next, he moved to his home coming out – Baker County. One year previous to his arrival, the Wildcats had managed a 6-5. BC went on to the 5A state championship game in its second Season where it fell to American Heritage, 44-15.

Rodgers took over as the head coach at Cook High School in Adel, Georgia after the 2018 season.

According to Rodgers, gang activity had gotten into the Cook football program. In his first year on the job a Cook corner back was shot dead in Valdosta.

Rodgers said that to a lot of stuff that I was not associated with or seen. It opened my eyes a little bit.” We dug our heels in; tried to make them better people, and it worked.

Cook won the sportsmanship award in their region in his third year, an accomplishment that Rodgers claimed was one of he’s top.

However, Rodgers left Cook with the record of 15-19.

However, the Hornets went 12–3 this season and still have eight players who played under Rodgers.

My Five Worst Days Of My Life

Rodgers time in Adel was also marred by personal tragedy.

He contracted COVID in November 2020 and stayed for ten days at the hospital when he went through “worst five days of my life”.

People were dying on the floor right and left,” Rodgers said.

His condition got better and he was released home after five days. Yet he shed off 32 lbs within five days.

However, Rodgers says he had no energy in the next week when they were having a playoff game and still felt it was important to be there because of how hard kids worked.

Rodgers’ father died of COVID in January 2021. He was given it at New Year and died with no symptoms on January 11.

Such experiences made Rodgers want to come home and the call Hartley gave him in January next year was like a gift from above.

Friday, we’re going to take it all in”.

When Mike Rodgers inherited the Tornadoes program in 1969, it had captured two state crowns during the mid-60s but failed to attain these heights again.

He predictably changed the Tornadoes’ path with a 12-2 season in 2022, followed by a perfect record of 14-0.

This earned Bradford’s first perfect record since 1990 and a trip to state title for the first time since 1985.

He knows he’s a good coach, but stops short of claiming total credit for the turnaround. He places himself third after the players and assistant coaches actually.

You don’t win unless you’ve got good players. Rodgers said, “It doesn’t matter how you coach.” I could come with a stable of 2-3 coaches that I trusted, and about four or five stayed from the last staff. Raised here, played here; I wanted them around.”

Upon first meeting with Rodgers where he laid out the Cowboys clear vision for success, Chason Clark, senior and Marshall commit worried that they might not buy in from the seniors.

As Clark puts it, “He displayed his plan in victory and in compassion” “He knows where we’ve come from but there’s only one road to the top.”

He declared the arrival of Rodgers a perfect marriage. Rodgers, a disciplinarian coach, described a Bradford team that his freshman and sophomore teams just couldn’t get out of its own way with penalties apparently (Clark).

Rodgers, Clark believes, was the recruiting turning table in the Bradford program. Five of Bradford’s seniors received offers from Division I programs.

Clark said, “I think other ones hit when Coach Rodgers came and changed us mentally. “We went into camps two different, we talked to coaches two different.”

Iowa State, USF interested in senior QB Dae’Jon Shanks. He concurs with Clark and added that Rodgers sent more film than any other coach.

According to Rodgers, those players instead of the wins supported reaffirmed his choice to come back to Florida.

The coach owned up to his competitiveness, calling himself a “bad loser.” Nevertheless, he takes in every moment now.

“I’ll tell you, when I was laying in that hospital bed in Tifton, Georgia all I wanted to do is fight until I could see my kids, see my wife and make sure that they had their dad back,” Rodgers said. “I don’t take it for granted. I love it, I love the kids and we’ll enjoy this Friday.”

Tornadoes play at Bragg Memorial Stadium on Florida A&M’s campus in Tallahassee, 8pm Friday and tickets are going for $20 each purchased at FAMU.

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