Oregon State lost five of its last seven games last season without James Rodgers, who suffered a serious knee injury against Arizona. - AP

Out of his hands

CORVALLIS — For the past 10 months almost everything related to James Rodgers' football career has been outside of his control.

Seriously injured Oct. 9 at Arizona, the flanker from Richmond, Texas, underwent two knee surgeries and watched helplessly on crutches as the Beavers stumbled to a 5-7 season.

Since then, Oregon State's all-time leader in all-purpose yardage has seen the Beavers disregarded in the media. He is aware that people outside the program are writing him off. He also knows that key decisions about his future will be made by others: his doctors and his coaches.

Oregon State coach Mike Riley has refused to put a date on his return, even speaking about it as an "if."

So Rodgers has gotten through fall camp the same way he has gotten through all those months of rehab — by focusing on things he can control.

"I couldn't give you a percentage of exactly where I am, and I know that there's things I still need to work on, but I feel good," he said this week. "I'm trying to take every practice and work on something that came up in an earlier practice. So I am just taking it one step at a time. The rest will take care of itself."

Largely ignored coming out of Lamar Consolidated High School near Houston, the 5-foot-7, 185-pound Rodgers isn't unfamiliar with the underdog role.

But it hasn't been an aspect of his college career. Rodgers was a star from the minute he set foot in Corvallis as a true freshman in 2007.

His reliable hands and amazing quickness made him a focal point of the Oregon State offense. The "fly sweep," where he would take a hand-off from the quarterback, dash around end and break upfield became his signature play.

When younger brother Jacquizz joined the Beavers in 2008 and took over at tailback, the Rodgers brothers became the backbone of the Oregon State offense. Each sporting their trademark braided hair and exhibiting a "yes ma'am" down-home likeability, they became media darlings. Quizz was quicker with a smile and a quip, while the quieter James played the part of the proud, protective big brother.

While Quizz went on to become one of the nation's best running backs, James was named to the Pacific-10 Conference's first team in his own right in 2009 with 58 receptions for 1,034 yards and nine touchdowns. He was named to several preseason All-America teams in 2010 and was expected to again team up with his brother to form a potent 1-2 punch.

It wasn't to be. James had barely gotten back from missing a game with a concussion when he tore knee ligaments after being tackled in the fifth game of the season against Arizona.

Without him, the Beavers went 2-5 the rest of the way. The offense suffered through inconsistency, and teams focused on bottling up Quizz and letting sophomore quarterback Ryan Katz throw to an inexperienced receiver corps. After the season, Quizz announced he was forgoing his senior season and he was drafted in the fifth round by the Atlanta Falcons.

James Rodgers had knee surgery in October. A second surgery followed in February to help the recovery process. To get through it, he focused on the positive, keeping his mind on doing his rehab and not dwelling on the past. He gained a medical hardship waiver to come back for another season, graduated in June with a degree in speech communications and switched his jersey number from 8 to 1, which was Quizz's number.

Rodgers has made no secret of his desire not to miss any games in 2011, and has stated his intention to be ready for the Beavers' opener with Sacramento State on Sept. 3. That is probably not going to happen. Riley has actively tamped down optimism about Rodgers' return and is not likely to rush Rodgers back to play against the Hornets of the lower-level Football Championship Subdivision.

"We have a pretty good picture of where he is right now and that is 'not ready' at this time," Riley said. "But, I think that the next time we talk to the doctor and the doctor gives an indication of where he is and how he's doing, we'll know more about the possibility of him (playing)."

Rodgers didn't disagree with his coach's assessment, but said he believes he'll be able to do all the things he used to do. "Everything feels basically good; it's just me working my way back into things," he said. "The main thing is just getting back to running routes, running deep and everything."

Not everyone has written Rodgers off. Last week, he was named a Playboy Preseason All-American kick returner. However, Riley has indicated he might use Rodgers exclusively as a receiver this season.

Riley has seen things from Rodgers that have encouraged him: "I (like) the fact when he's running fast he can still sink his hips and come up from a break —— that's how he really made a living at his position —— so I think those are good signs," he said. "It's not there yet, but maybe it's coming."

When his time does come, Rodgers says he'll be ready.

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