38th Heisman Winner Johnny “The Jet” Rodgers Speaks

By David Jordan BASN Columnist
Updated: April 16, 2012

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Allowing everyone to prosper on and off the field.

Allowing everyone to prosper on and off the field.

OMAHA, NE. (BASN)On Thursday, April 12th, 2012 the first Johnny “The Jet” Rodgers National College Football Returner of the Year award was awarded to Arkansas Wide Receiver Joe Adams. The National College Football Returner of the Year award was a long time coming, as we have seen decades of explosive returners who have not received the recognition that they should have for their efforts on the field. With this award, that will all change, thanks to arguably the greatest returner in NCAA history, Johnny Rodgers.

I had the privilege of speaking with Mr. Rodgers, who shares with me his thoughts on his charity (The Johnny “The Jet” Rogers Youth Foundation), The NCAA award named in his honor (Johnny “The Jet” Rodgers National College Football Returner of the Year Award), and his advice on what it takes to be the best.

The Johnny “The Jet” Rogers Youth Foundation is a 501c3 corporation which started in 1989. The foundation is based in Omaha, Nebraska. Nebraska is the home of Mr. Rodger’s alma mater; the place where won a National Championship, brokeand set many records while on his way to receiving the 38th Heisman Award. This was the first Heisman award in the Nebraska Cornhuskers history. Mr. Rogers continues to give back to the Nebraska community, starting with his Youth Foundation.

The program is set up to have a major effect on families in the Nebraska area, specifically those who may be a little more under privileged than others. In explaining his charity, Mr. Rodgers stated that “African American Families in Omaha, Nebraska are #1 in poverty in the United States, which makes the children #3 in poverty.

This is in a community where they have more billionaires per capita than anywhere else in the United States”. With that being said, the goal of the organization is to give the kids a better education.

But equally as important, they want to make sure that they are helping out the families, as well as the kids. You can’t just help the children, because at the end of the day, they still go home to a situation which is virtually unchanged. Change has to start at the top. What The Johnny “The Jet” Rogers Youth Foundation does is try to “Assess how to impact the family, as opposed to the individual” which in turn will yield greater results for all those involved in the situation. The foundation also assists other charities in raising funds, for the betterment of the community. Through his foundation, Mr. Rodgers has been impactful in many of the lives of the people in Omaha, and continues to work day in and day out to make sure he is doing all he can to make sure their youth have a better tomorrow.

The Johnny “The Jet” Rodgers National College Football Returner of the Year Award is awarded to the athlete who had the best all around year as a Return Specialist (Kick off & Punt Return). Mr. Rodgers describes a Return Specialist as “Courageous and Electrifying”. “The Johnny “The Jet” Rodgers National College Football Returner of the Year Award is National and dynamic”. This reward recognizes those student athletes who participate in kickoff and punt return, two plays in which Mr. Rodgers says “Can make or break a football game at the drop of a hat”. This year’s recipient, Joe Adams, had a ridiculous return this past season versus Tennessee which caught national recognition for weeks, and took the internet by storm.


But as we look back, we have for decades seen returners change the game as we know it. Devin Hester, Reggie Bush, Raghib Ismail, Deion Sanders and Desmond Howard are just a handful of names amongst others who tore apart the college football world, and now there is an award to recognize what they did on the field.

“It’s 2012, if we’re not getting national attention on punt returns and kickoffs & significant awards, then it has basically been overlooked, and it’s about time they get the recognition that they deserve”. And that is just what this award will do. To make this award even more special, the board for the Johnny “The Jet” Rodgers National College Football Returner of the Year Award is going to make sure those kick and punt return specialist from the past are not forgotten or overlooked. ” Dating back to 1959, we will award 10 recipients every year with the award for the next few years, and so on, until we catch up, giving those specialist the recognition and honor that they truly deserve”.

We all know that these athletes are extremely gifted, and work very hard to perfect their craft. But what does it take to be so successful on and off the field? What does your work ethic have to be like to be one of the greatest Return Specialist of all time? There’s no one better to answer that question, than Johnny “The Jet” Rodgers.

The first words out of Mr. Rodgers mouth was “Fatigue”. “Fatigue! You have to be in impeccable condition. You must work yourself beyond belief. And of course, you have to be courageous. You have to be courageous when you’re tired”. When asked how he stayed so well conditioned, he attributed it to a number of things. “With your body, you must be careful of what you take in. You have to treat your body like a temple’. The University of Nebraska played a huge role in helping him with this. “We had just really started off with our strength & conditioning, and our nutritional health. It is far more advanced now than it was back then. The most significant thing is when you reach that level (College football, Elite Players) you have someone who has helped you”. Mr. Rodgers went on to express how important it is to make sure you surround yourself with the right people.

“You don’t win a Heisman or a National Championship by yourself. You have to know how to integrate, associate, and get along with other people. You can’t make it by yourself. The Reason why I was able to accomplish the things I accomplished was because not because of me, but because of God, and those people around me”.

Hard work, sacrifice, and dedication will get you a long way, on and off of the field. www.JohnnyTheJetRogers.com (Mr. Rodgers website) list his accomplishments as follows-

Johnny Rodgers Accomplishments:

· Athlete of the Year – State of Nebraska

· Two Time All-American at Nebraska

· 1971-72 First Team All-American

· 1972 Heisman Trophy

· 1972 Walter Camp Outstanding Player

· 1972 UPI Offensive Player of the Year

· 1973 Nebraska Hall of Fame

· 1973 Rookie of the Year – Canadian Football League

· 1974-76 All Pro – Canadian Football League

· 1974 – 76 Player of the Year Runner Up – Canadian Football League

· 1977-78 San Diego Chargers, NFL

· 1996 Orange Bowl Hall of Honor

· Most Valuable Player in Big 8 History – Sports Writers Association

· 2000 College Football Hall of Fame

· 2000 Nebraska Football All Century Team

· 2000 Nebraska Football Player of the Century

· 2008 Omaha Public School Hall of Fame

Johnny Rodgers Big Eight Records:

· 1970-72 Eight touchdowns scored on kick/punt returns, career, NCAA record

· 1970-72 Seven punt returns for touchdown, career, NCAA record

· 1970-72 150 pass receptions, career

· 1970-72 2,708 pass receiving yards, career

· 1971 Eleven touchdown pass receptions, season

· 1970-72 26 touchdown pass receptions, career

· 1971 170 punt return yards, game, Nebraska vs. Oklahoma State

· 1972 618 punt return yards, season

· 1970-72 1,654 punt return yards, career

Johnny Rodgers Nebraska Career Stats:





















As you can see, Mr. Rodgers has excelled on and off of the field, and hasn’t stopped yet. He continues to help to improve the lives of others through his charity work, and now through his award. Because of his dedication, the National College Football Returner of the Year Award was named after him and sculpted in his image. Made famous for his 1971 Punt return versus Oklahoma University, Mr.

Rodgers will now be forever remembered as one of the greatest Return Specialist of all time.