By Alex Byington
Killeen Daily Herald
His voice is barely audible. His hands shake continuously from the Parkinson's disease that has ravaged his once-sound body.
But at first mention of his son Ross' coaching career, 83-year-old Gene Rogers lights up.
"I knew when he was 5 years old, he was going to be a coach," Gene said. "He was the boss on his elementary team."
Even as a child, it wasn't long before Ross was injecting himself in the legendary Killeen football coach's staff meetings, which generally elicited a hard twist of the ear from his father.
"I'd be 8 years old and I'd be chiming in, and he'd say, 'They don't want to hear what you have to say,'" the 58-year-old Ross jokingly recalled.
In that tiny South Texas fieldhouse in Magnolia, Ross began to hone his future craft.
But it was what he accomplished during his 26-year career as a Texas high school head football coach - spanning three separate decades and including a state championship at A&M Consolidated in 1991 and establishing the Harker Heights program in 2000 - that earned him inclusion into the Texas High School Coaches Association Hall of Honor.
After following in his father's footsteps into the coaching profession, Ross and his 211-87-8 career record will once again join him when he is inducted into the Hall of Honor at the 2011 THSCA coaching convention Wednesday in Fort Worth. Ross' inclusion will mark only the second father-son duo in the Hall of Honor. Gene made it in 1985.
"I'm not going to say it was the ultimate goal, but it is certainly one of the highest achievements because you know you've been voted in by your peers, people have respect for what you've done," Ross said.
Into the fieldhouse
The profession that would forever become synonymous with the Rogers family almost wasn't.
While waiting on an agriculture loan, 26-year-old would-be farmer Gene was reeled into high school coaching with a more lucrative offer - $2,800 to be a last-minute replacement in Agua Dulce.
Born in the dead of August, during the beginning of the annual rite-of-passage that are preseason workouts, Ross was raised around the game of football, often spending his afternoons after school hanging around the fieldhouse while his father ran practice.
"Dad grew up on a farm and became a coach, but I grew up in the fieldhouse," Ross said. "I was born during two-a-days, so I never knew anything but going to the fieldhouse my whole career."
Since that first job, football has been a life-blood for the Rogers family.
Along with Gene, who retired from coaching in 1977 after 11 years at Killeen to accept the title of athletic director for the Killeen Independent School District, youngest son Tom is the current KISD Athletic Director after many years as an assistant coach
Ross helped his father turn around a downtrodden Killeen program as the junior quarterback of the 1970 district champion team that broke a 15-year losing streak to bitter rival Temple. He then became one of the state's youngest head coaches in 1977.
"I remember calling dad when I was 23 years old and telling him they gave me the head job at Hempstead - we can't repeat what he said, but that was (special)," Ross said.
While his father was cementing his legacy with the Roos, Ross bounced around the coaching ranks, even jumping back into college football as an offensive coordinator at Southwest Texas State (1983-86) - now Texas State - before a one-year stop at Giddings.
In 1988, he accepted the top job at A&M Consolidated, as Ross attempted to mirror his father's success at Killeen and change the fortunes of a struggling program that had only won more than six games once (1977) since 1953.
And turnaround he did - quickly - leading the Tigers to a then state-record four consecutive 14-win seasons from 1989-92. That run included three state final appearances and the 1991 4A championship.
Into the Heights
His legacy already established following 103 wins in a dozen years at A&M Consolidated, Ross craved a new challenge.
So, with the turn of the new century, he left College Station to make his own mark in the land of his father.
Encouraged by family friends in Killeen, Ross returned to his childhood hometown to captain the start-up football team in Harker Heights, as KISD split from two to four high schools.
"It was just an exciting time," Ross said. "Then for us to open up the school, and we weren't very good, were we, Dad?"
"I had my bags packed all ready to leave," Gene joked weakly.
But just like during Gene's early struggles at Killeen, there would be no moving vans for any of the Rogers as the Knights began to turn things around after a 2-2 start to the 2000 season.
"Then all of a sudden we beat Belton and Lampasas to win a district championship and went three (rounds) deep and really had a chance to win that game," Ross continued. "It would have been a real storybook season if we had gone all the way but I think it's still the first high school in the state of Texas that ever opened its doors that year and won a district championship."
Despite being diagnosed with Parkinson's during Ross' first year at Heights, Gene still managed to make it to every game his son coached over those seven seasons with the Knights.
"I don't think you missed a game, did you?" Ross asked.
"Nuh uh," Gene said.
Compiling a 52-27 record and taking Heights to six playoff trips, Ross retired following the 2006 season. The Knights haven't been back to the postseason since.
Into the hall
When longtime Tomball coach Lynn Etheredge heard his name called by the THSCA in 1999, his legendary father - the late La Marque coach Orville Etheredge - had long passed on. Orville, who earned his honor to the Hall in 1972, and Lynn Etheredge were the state's first father-son duo to garner inclusion.
"Lynn put it in perspective, 'I know my dad knows in a way, but it sure would have been nice for me to get in while he was living,'" Ross recalled being told. "Well you can imagine that at this point, we're both still above ground and to know that we've both got in."
Struggling with his advanced Parkinson's, Gene may not be able to make the trip to Fort Worth for the Hall of Honor presentation Wednesday. But while his body might not be there, Gene's presence will be reflected in Ross and all of his accomplishments and their joint impact on Texas high school athletics will forever be an indelible mark on the state.
"Time will forget us, but I think that since 1950 till right now - the last 60 years - there's been (a Rogers family member) really involved in Texas high school athletics or football, and that the Rogers name is something to be remembered," Ross said. "Maybe not forever, but for a while."
Their inclusion to the THSCA Hall of Honor all but assures that.
Contact Alex Byington at email@example.com or (254) 501-7566.