For the past five years, fans of Northern Arizona University basketball haven't been able to talk about the Lumberjacks without mention of Gabe Rogers.
Whether he's defending opposing teams' best offensive players, lingering around the 3-point line waiting for yet another chance to singe the net, or leading a run-and-gun Jacks squad up and down the floor, Rogers is not only on the minds of NAU men's basketball fans but on every player's who has ever had to face him in Big Sky Conference play.
And now that his time in the Blue and Gold is quickly coming to an end, what's on his mind is that just as all good things in life, Rogers' time on the floor at the Dome can't last forever.
"It's crazy, I've been here for a long time," Rogers said, "and I haven't really had a chance to reflect on it, but there are only seven guaranteed games left."
Seven games if the Jacks don't make the Big Sky tournament; more if Rogers has anything to say about it.
Leading the new-look Lumberjacks into a new era of men's basketball, Rogers hasn't made a habit of thinking about his last days, but he admits it's in the back of his mind.
"You've seen us seniors, me and Mike (Dunn) and Stallon (Saldivar) pick it up because there's a sense of urgency there because the end is near," he said. "That's part of the reason we've been playing harder, and we know every game matters."
JUST BEING GABE
Rogers struggled early on in his senior season. He was missing shots and losing confidence. No one knew why.
Finally during a road trip during which the Lumberjacks played Weber State and Idaho State, Rogers found himself.
First-year head coach Jack Murphy said Rogers found himself by returning to his roots as an outstanding defensive player.
"Those two games kind of got him back in the flow of things and then his offense started to come around," Murphy said. "He hasn't ever lacked for confidence and we as a coaching staff never lacked for confidence in him. We always knew he could be what he is and he's wrapped his arms around that and taken off running."
Once Rogers felt like himself, everything else started to fall into place. He was hitting shots, the Jacks were winning and now Rogers is No. 2 in the Big Sky's 3-point shots made stat line.
And that's where he thrives.
While Rogers' early-season slump has robbed him of a national top-15 3-point shooting percentage, it's the shots he's making now that have an impact on NAU's games.
"His percentages are starting to rise, and we don't have a lot of gifted offensive players on our team," Murphy said. "We have hardhat, lunch pail-type guys who go out there and get the job done. We don't have guys who are going to go out and score 20 points a game.
"Gabe and DeWayne are really our two offensive weapons and you're going to ride those guys," Murphy added. "Gabe doesn't take a lot of bad shots; even when he was missing shots they were open shots, he just had to get his rhythm back."
Rogers is the ambassador between the Lumberjacks of 2012 and the team we all see now, ushering the "Old NAU" into the "New NAU." And he's doing such a good job he said it doesn't feel like there's a transition going on at all.
"The difference between this year and last year is stability," Rogers said. "Last year we didn't have a stable team, we were in a state of flux and I like to, as a sociology major, think critically on things."
Rogers said he compares the NAU men's program to what happens when a society overthrows its leadership.
"You're going to have a period of time when there's chaos, and last year that's what we had," Rogers said. "Then we get that leader -- Coach Murphy's that leader. When he came in everything else calmed down and people have been better."
Murphy said having Rogers to soften the transition has made the team better, has made Rogers better and has even made himself better.
"He's helped because he's such an outstanding offense player," Murphy said. "He's made me look like a better coach; if you don't have guys who can put the ball in the basket it's not going to make a difference. Gabe is one of those players and he gives me credibility because he's so coachable. He takes the criticism, the coaching and takes anything I or my staff says to heart."
BEING THE MAN
All of the Lumberjacks needed Rogers to be the man this season. They needed his leadership, his scoring and his maturity to succeed. And Rogers has delivered.
On the court, Rogers stymies opposing teams with his 3-point shot, opening up the paint and his teammates for points.
Off the court, Rogers has taken young players like freshman DeWayne Russell under his wing in a big-brother role he's come to embrace.
"He's a great person, very mature for his age. He's one of the only players I've ever been around who has gotten engaged while still in school and he's serious about his family and his friends," Murphy said. "He's really got a big heart and he's one of those guys other people want to be around."
For Rogers, making relationships with the younger players is his way of paying it forward.
"For me it was Cam Jones, Shane Johannsen, Eric Platt and Josh Wilson, all those guys really took me in like a younger brother and tried to help me and that's what I'm doing for our young talented players. They're learning the game and doing a great job," Rogers said.
Being the man also means Rogers has to juggle his basketball career with getting his degree -- something every college athlete has to do -- and also with his role as a soon-to-be married man.
Rogers said having his fiancé in his life has calmed him both on and off the court.
"It helps greatly to have a girl who is 100 percent for you and supports every single thing you do," Rogers said. "The other thing is she also has a family here who has really taken me in as their own and that's helped me out as well. It's great to have that person that when things get rough and get down, I can really lean on her."
Murphy said Rogers is doing everything the team needs him to do; and then some.
"He's found his niche in terms of we wanted," Murphy said. "He was trying to do too much and be the man and now he's in the role where he's doing everything and he is the man, but he's gotten there naturally rather than trying to force it. Early on we both might have been trying a bit too hard."
JUMP TO THE BIG TIME?
With the impending end of his college career, Rogers can't help but dream about playing basketball professionally. He said every college athlete thinks about continuing what they're doing and getting paid to do something they really love.
But he's not unrealistic, either.
"But then you have to think about if that falls through," Rogers said. "Being from Houston, Texas, there are a lot of troubled kids there and I'd like to help them out. I want to be in the juvenile justice system and hopefully this year I'll see what's the best plan for me."
GOING OUT IN STYLE
Rogers said the ideal situation for him to leave college basketball would be nothing short of heroic. He envisions the clock winding down, the score tied and the ball in his hands.
"It'll be a four flat shot," Rogers said. "Boom, little herky-jerk then shoot a three and ride off into the sunset."
No matter how Rogers' career ends, there's no doubt he's left his legacy behind.
Bill Harris can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 556-2251.