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Rodgers no stranger to being overlooked

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Dan Parr

dparr@pfwmedia.com
Associate editor

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Posted Feb. 05, 2011 @ 6:08 p.m. ET
By Dan Parr

DALLAS — Some people turn into a mess of astonishment when they hear about how Aaron Rodgers' college career began.

Heads shake, eyebrows are raised and shoulders shrug.

How is it possible that Rodgers couldn't convince a Division I school to find a spot for him, and the one team — Illinois — that he tried to make as a walk-on turned him down after he went to their camp?

The evaluators didn't like what they saw from him, and it shook Rodgers.

"I'm a perfectionist, but also a realist," Rodgers said, reflecting on that time this week. "... I was playing baseball. I was thinking about maybe doing something else. Maybe football is not for me."

He decided to keep playing and enrolled at Butte College, a community college in his hometown, Chico, Calif. Rodgers says that's when his dream — one that could be fully realized Sunday in Super Bowl XLV — got back on track.

"That season kind of told me that my hard work is going to pay off because I worked my butt off that offseason between my senior year and playing at Butte," he said. "That year kind of just said, 'Hey, I got a chance. There's still going to be a lot of hard work, but I still got a chance to fulfill my dream.'"

His coach at Butte, Craig Rigsbee, is still part of Rodgers' inner circle. Rigsbee texted Rodgers this week and sent him a picture of his fans back in Chico wearing green and gold on "Packer Pride Day" at Butte. Rodgers wrote back to tell him he loved it.

*      *      *

Rigsbee says it didn't take more than a practice or two to realize that Rodgers probably wouldn't be at Butte for long. He absorbed the playbook quicker than anyone had before. He was developing physically, growing and adding weight to a skinny frame.

"He looked like a puppy that was going to get big," Rigsbee said.

But there was something else about Rodgers that struck him.

Rodgers was one of the youngest players on a team that had a 25-year-old bartender at center and a safety that had spent time in prison. Others came there because they didn't hack it in Division I. Then there were the local kids like Rodgers with aspirations of beating the odds.

"The thing that really made me know that he was going to be a great player was his confidence," Rigsbee said. "He was very confident leading the group of guys even though his team was much older kids."

Rodgers called that season the most important one of his young career.

"I learned a lot about myself that year, being an 18-year-old playing with guys from all over the country and different countries," Rodgers said. "... Trying to be an 18-year-old and lead those guys and figure out a way to lead them. I learned a lot about leadership and a lot about myself and I also got my confidence back because I had a real good season."

Loyalty to Rigsbee had Rodgers considering putting off an opportunity to jump to Division I after his freshman year. The University of California came calling when head coach Jeff Tedford noticed Rodgers while watching tape of a Butte tight end. He asked to meet Rodgers, came to practice and made him an offer.

Rodgers thought about staying for another year, but with some nudging from Rigsbee, he transferred to Cal after one year at Butte.

"I said if I got to drive you down to Berkeley and throw you out on the curb, I will," Rigsbee said.

*      *      *

Rodgers is confident and composed. He has overcome being ignored by colleges out of high school, falling to the 24th pick of the draft and living in the shadow of Brett Favre in Green Bay. He led a diverse group of junior collegians to a 10-1 record and a conference championship.

He doesn't crack easily.

There was that one time in training camp earlier this season, though.

"The whole camp while we were staying in the dorms, he was pranking everyone," Graham Harrell, the Packers' third-string quarterback, said. "So finally someone had enough. They sprayed a fire extinguisher into his air conditioner. It scattered the whole room. He was out to slice tires after that one.

"That stuff was everywhere. He wasn't able to sleep in there for the night. He had a guitar in there that he claims it ruined."

While Harrell said Rodgers is better at making a joke than taking one, he said his sense of humor and calm has been key for the team.

"The stage never really seems too big because he does a great job of keeping the mood light and joking around," Harrell said. "You don't want to turn a joke around on him too often or it's going to be bad."

Third-year WR Jordy Nelson arrived in Green Bay during the turbulent offseason when the Packers decided it was Rodgers' time, trading Favre after he decided he wanted to keep playing.

"I think coming in his first year, he didn't know if people really believed that he was the leader of the team," Nelson said. "... He's taken that role."

*      *      *

Rodgers remembers where the dream re-started for him and the people that helped him along the way.

He wore a Butte t-shirt during his press conference after beating the Bears in the NFC championship game two weeks ago. He and Tedford still speak or exchange messages frequently.

"We talk and text, but it's more about admiration (for each other)," Tedford said, when asked if he's still giving Rodgers coaching tips.

Rodgers is on the brink of joining an elite group, but regardless of the outcome Sunday, Rigsbee expects he'll keep the same company afterward.

"Whether he wins or loses, he's going to be the same guy," he said. "He'll still come back to Chico and hang out with his old boys and come by and see his coach. He doesn't have a big entourage. He comes by himself and does his thing. He doesn't drive a big Bentley or anything. He drives an old beat up truck. That's just the way it is.

"He's real close with his brothers. He's close with his coaches and his parents and he has a couple close friends from high school. That's it. A couple buddies he plays golf with in San Diego where he lives and that's pretty much it.

"That's what he does."

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