Football Feature Friday: Kjaye Ready to Go
By Bob Weiner for UAlbany Athletics
ALBANY, N.Y. -- Kendall “Kjaye” Rodgers Jr. doesn't know for sure what his role will be for the University at Albany football team next season. Undoubtedly, the junior tailback from Carson, Calif. will run, catch and block, but just how often will he play?
With the assortment of knee injuries to featured back Elijah Ibitokun-Hanks, the Great Danes coaching staff plans on reducing their star's touches this fall. Rodgers is an outstanding insurance policy, whether he splits time with Ibitokun-Hanks, backs him up when necessary, or even slides into the No. 1 spot if Ibitokun-Hanks doesn't recover fully the way everyone believes he will.
Rodgers said he is ready to do whatever the coaching staff needs of him. “I know he's (Ibitokun-Hanks) working as hard as he can. He's dealing with the injury stuff, and I can't worry about that,” Rodgers said. “If you ask me, EB works too hard. I see him every day, and he's always in the training room. But I'm trying to get ready myself. I'm getting good feedback from the coaches, and I'm trying to improve and get better. I believe they are pretty happy with me, but I know they expect more. There are high expectations for both of us.”
Rodgers was forced into the No. 1 tailback role last November in the final game of the season, when Ibitokun-Hanks injured his knee against Stony Brook. He continued in that role this spring, especially in the annual spring game “When EB got hurt against Stony Brook, it was heart-breaking,” Rodgers said. “I've had knee injuries myself, and I know what it means. When EB went down, it was time to go to war.”
In limited action, Rodgers finished the 2016 season with 154 yards rushing on 53 carries, and he caught one pass for six yards, but he believes he has the all-around game that will come in handy for the Great Danes. “With EB out this spring, at least I knew what to expect,” he said. “The previous year, I missed all of spring practice, and that was very frustrating for me. I know I can run the ball, and I feel I can catch almost anything they throw at me. Getting out and running some passing routes helps the other receivers.”
UAlbany head coach Greg Gattuso has confidence in Rodgers, no matter how often he plays. “He's getting better,” Gattuso said. “In spring practice, it was a difficult transition for him, but we will all be more comfortable giving EB a break when he's ready to play knowing Kjaye is there. We expect to have both running backs healthy and rolling next season.”
Gattuso said that the 5-foot-10, 205-pound Rodgers definitely has all the tools and is extremely versatile. “He's a good runner, a good blocker and an exceptional pass receiver,” Gattuso said. “I have no concerns about Kjaye. I think it would be hard if he had to carry the ball 25 times a game. It takes a little time to be able to run that often, but there is no doubt that we need to cut down on EB's carries.”
UAlbany football season tickets are now on sale for the 2017 season. Prices start as low as $75. For more information, visit ualbanysports.com/tickets or call the UAlbany ticket office directly at 518-442-DANE.