Khaliel Rodgers' departure raises questions for North Carolina
When offensive guard Khaliel Rodgers unexpectedly announced his retirement from football, North Carolina’s offensive line situation became even more intriguing.
Rodgers, a graduate transfer from Southern California, was expected to compete for a starting spot on UNC's line during training camp. With 11 starts in three seasons at USC, he was going to bring much-needed experience to a Tar Heel group which graduated players like Jon Heck, Caleb Peterson and Lucas Crowley.
But a Facebook post on Saturday afternoon proved he had other plans.
“After much thought, I decided to retire from football," wrote Rodgers, who earned a degree in sociology at USC. "The goals I’ve set for myself are bigger then (sic) football.”
There’s some speculation that Rodgers’ sudden decision to retire was health-related. In his final game as a Trojan last November, he suffered a concussion.
An earlier version of Rodgers’ message on Facebook included the phrase “my health comes first," according to Argyle Report. That phrase was subsequently deleted from the post. Rodgers has also changed his Facebook profile page from public to private since his post.
Rodgers’ announcement came less than two weeks after research by Dr. Ann McKee of Boston University found evidence of chronic traumatic encephalopathy, also known as C.T.E., in the brains of 110 of 111 former NFL players examined.
According to head coach Larry Fedora, Rodgers’ decision to leave the team came as a surprise and a disappointment, adding Rodgers did not tell him why he was retiring.
“I was disappointed because he was really doing well,” Fedora said. “He had really fit in with our football team, and he just felt like it was time for him to give it up. So he walked away, and I hated it.”
Senior offensive tackle Bentley Spain said he thought Rodgers was retiring because of “things in his life outside of football,” while also saying that his departure provides younger players a greater opportunity to provide depth.
A UNC Athletics spokesperson could not confirm whether or not Rodgers is still a student at the school on Monday. As of today, Rodgers has been removed from the football team's 2017 roster on GoHeels.com. In his Facebook post, Rodgers wrote “I will continue to further my education while pursuing a career in Business / wealth management.”
On the field, Rodgers’ departure adds another element of uncertainty up front. When listing players he felt certain would start on offense, Fedora mentioned Spain and Florida graduate transfer Cam Dillard, who is slated to be the Tar Heels’ center.
But outside of that duo, there’s a lot that hasn’t been decided in regards to the offensive line. Returning are senior tackle R.J. Prince, who started 12 games at right guard last season, and sophomore guard Tommy Hatton, who filled in at left guard for the final seven games a year ago following a season-ending injury to Peterson.
Redshirt sophomore offensive tackle William Sweet and redshirt sophomore offensive guard Nick Polino, who each made one start apiece last season, are back, too.
As of now, Spain said the offensive line, like the rest of the offense, is almost done with the instillation of the offense and that a clear first-team hasn’t been determined.
“We’ve actually been switching people around a fair amount,” he said.
Spain said there’s also been an emphasis on moving guys around and getting reps at different positions, which can be beneficial if injuries occur down the line. While it isn’t quite clear where all the puzzle pieces will fall, Spain said Dillard, who started 19 times at Florida, has added a veteran presence for the offensive line group.
“He’s playing center, so he’s got to make a lot of calls for us, and he’s stepping up to be a leader of the offense, too,” he said.