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Clemson receiver’s motivation fueled by bond with successful and supportive father

It’s Monday, Aug. 13 at about 7:30 p.m., and Clemson players are slowly making their way off of the outdoor practice field at Jervey Meadows after the ninth day of preseason camp has wrapped up.

The sun is beaming down on the exhausted group. Sweat pours off their faces following a nearly three-hour workout.

Post-practice meetings have wrapped up and most of the field is clear. But a Jugs throwing machine, a few managers and Tigers receiver Amari Rodgers remain.

As is the case most days, after Clemson’s practice has ended and most of the other players and staff members are gone, Rodgers is still on the field perfecting his craft.

Rodgers set lofty goals as a kid when he attended a Tennessee game with his dad, former Vols star quarterback Tee Martin. Encouragement provided that day and in the years to come serves as a cornerstone to Rodgers’ drive to succeed.

“He was with me, and the people were asking me for my autograph,” Martin, who is now the offensive coordinator at Southern Cal, told The State. “He told me, ‘One day people are going to ask me for my autograph.’ I said ‘They sure will if you keep working.’ ”

And with that, a highly motivated Rodgers began chasing his dream.

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Football foundation

Rodgers has been around football his whole life, and he has always had a passion for it. He grew up in Knoxville, Tenn., with his mom, LaKenya Dennard, but he also has always shared a close bond with his father.

“He would sit down and watch games and sit down and ask questions about guys,” Martin recalled. “He always wanted to learn. I remember when he was 10 or 11 years old he would ask questions where you were like, ‘OK, he’s really serious about this.’ ”

Rodgers earned a starting job his freshman year of high school and was a star at Knoxville Catholic the following three years.

He was his team’s leading rusher as a sophomore before making the seamless transition to wideout.

Rodgers had 1,570 receiving yards and 23 touchdowns as a junior and 1,238 yards and 18 scores as a senior while becoming one of the top recruits in the country.

“Sophomore and junior year he really turned the lights on where he really started to lift weights and get stronger,” Martin said. “He got really fast. His hands developed. His routes started to develop. You really saw him develop into the recruit he became.”

A unique recruiting process

Rodgers committed to Southern Cal in June of 2015, a move that seemed obvious at the time.

The Trojans were not only his most high-profile option, but playing at Southern Cal would also give him the opportunity to play for his dad.

“I went to their camp and I did really good in that and they offered me and I committed on the spot,” Rodgers said. “I was a little kid. I was 15, actually, I think. So I was young. USC and L.A., so why not commit?”

Martin was thrilled with his son’s decision, but he also knew that his recruitment was far from over.

With Rodgers growing up in Knoxville, the allure to stay closer to home in Tennessee could be too much to pass up, Martin believed.

Tennessee offered Rodgers in July of 2015, but he remained committed to Southern Cal.

Clemson offered Rodgers Dec. 7, 2015. He decommitted from the Trojans two days later.

“I knew once he got something closer to home, closer to Knoxville, that it would be a big interest of his,” Martin said. “When Clemson offered, he had always liked Clemson for some reason. They didn’t offer him right away. ... It finally came, and once that offer came it was just a matter of time before he committed. It was one of those schools that he always liked. He always had something about them that he liked.”

Martin will still occasionally tease Rodgers about turning down the opportunity to play for his dad at Southern Cal, but it’s all in good fun.

“It was tough. It was a long, thought-out conversation and he just told me he supported me anywhere I went,” Rodgers said. “He was still a dad. He would like to coach me, and that opportunity still might come. He might get an NFL job in the future or something like that. He would love to coach me, but even though I’m not there, he’s still coaching me. ... He still gives me advice and gives me information.”

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Long-distance coach

Martin is not Rodgers’ position coach or offensive coordinator, but he still provides plenty of coaching. He watched every Clemson game last year, either live or on tape, and broke down film of his son’s play.

The two communicate daily, either through text or phone calls, and Rodgers will often send his father video of practice so that Martin can analyze Rodgers’ game.

Rodgers takes trips to California to visit his dad whenever he gets the chance, but rather than enjoying the perks of Los Angeles, he usually spends the time getting some in-person coaching from Martin.

“He comes out for vacation and all he wants to do is work out,” Martin said, laughing. “When he’s out here we go over our film or their film. It’s more education. It’s more football knowledge, coverages, releases, route concepts, things of that nature, not only for knowledge now but also preparing him for if he’s blessed enough to make it to the next level.

Got my whole crew together! #LuckyMe #SugarBowl #Clemson

A post shared by Tee Martin (@coachtee17) on

Future aspirations

Playing at the next level is also a goal Rodgers set at a young age.

Martin had an ultra-successful college career, leading Tennessee to the 1998 national tile. He was drafted in the fifth round of the 2000 NFL draft and spent a few years in the NFL, then had a stop in the CFL before beginning his coaching career.

“Coming from what my dad did, what he accomplished, he’s told me he wants me to do more, to achieve more than he did, so that’s my motivation,” Rodgers said. “Every day I come out here, I’m just thinking, ‘He won a national championship, so I’m trying to win two. He played three years in the NFL, so I’m trying to play at least five.’ So I think that’s my motivation. That’s what gets me through.”

Rodgers’ focus and dedication is obvious to anyone who has spent time observing Clemson’s practice field over the past couple of years, and it’s particularly evident to Clemson co-offensive coordinator and receivers coach Jeff Scott.

“He’s very businesslike. He practices like a pro,” Scott said. “He’s disappointed if he doesn’t do it exactly right. He’s back in there watching the film after practice and just trying to be a master of the details. So I’ve been really pleased with him.”

While Rodgers has dreams of playing in the NFL down the road, he and Martin have the same short-term goal — to help their teams to the College Football Playoff.

The Tigers are looking for their fourth consecutive College Football Playoff appearance, while Southern Cal is trying to take the next step and reach the playoff after finishing No. 8 in the final playoff rankings in 2017.

“I thought it was going to happen last year. It got really close,” Martin said. “Everybody’s grinding now and trying to win them all and get to the playoff. We’ll let the chips fall where they may, but it’s always something that you have in the back of your mind. If that ever became a reality, it’d be a pretty special moment.”

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