Anna Grace Rogers’ students tend to refer to Mississippi State’s star quarterback by his full name.
The first-year math teacher at Heritage Academy is still working on that.
“They’re always like, ‘I saw Will Rogers did this,’” she said. “I’m like, ‘It’s just Will. It’s just Will.’”
Anna Grace, Rogers’ older sister, has never called him anything else.
She’s seen her little brother excel in every sport under the sun. She hasn’t missed a single game he has played for Mississippi State. She’s seen him blossom into a leader for the Bulldogs and become known on a national level.
To her, though, he’ll always just be Will.
“It is so cool,” she said. “It’s so cool. But he’s still my brother.”
Anna Grace knows most people view their family members as prodigies from Day 1.
In her case, though, Rogers really was one.
“He was always just athletic,” Anna Grace said. “Any sport he played, he was good at, which was annoying because I was not that way. I was the smart one, so I’ll take that.”
Rogers stood out in baseball and soccer as well as football.
Even in sports he had no right to be good at, he was. Anna Grace loves tennis, but her brother is better.
“Will will wear me out on a tennis court,” she said. “I’m just like, ‘You never played. How is this fair?’”
It didn’t stop at sports. Unlike her brother, Anna Grace has no interest in hunting, but when she went through a phase where she decided it was for her, Rogers took her out to the woods.
He handed her a gun, and she shot four times at a deer, missing with every round. The creature didn’t even flinch.
“He always gives me a hard time about, ‘Well, you shot at a deer four times, and it didn’t even move,’” Anna Grace said. “He’s definitely a better hunter than me.”
Out on the football field his whole life — his father Wyatt is a lifelong coach who made stops at UT Martin and Delta State — Rogers grew up with the sport. When he was in elementary school, he snapped balls for high school players and caught passes for fun.
Wyatt worked Rogers hard, and he trained with eventual NFL quarterback Gardner Minshew.
By the time the family moved from Louisville — where Wyatt had been coaching at Winston Academy — to Brandon, Anna Grace could see her brother’s potential.
“When he got to high school and he started playing, I knew that he would go play somewhere,” she said.
An easy flip
Unfortunately for her, that somewhere was her school’s biggest rival.
The Rogers family grew up Ole Miss fans, although Anna Grace rooted for Alabama, her mother’s alma mater. When Rogers committed to MSU in January 2019, his older sister was a junior at Ole Miss.
By the time Rogers signed with the Bulldogs, though, Anna Grace had switched her allegiances. She still cheers on the Rebels when she can, but not when the Egg Bowl rivalry game comes into play.
“Pretty much when Will decided he was going to State, I was just like, ‘Alright, we’re going for State now,’” she said. “It was not hard at all to just, like, flip.”
That transition included switching schools. After graduating from Ole Miss in May 2020, Anna Grace chose to attend Mississippi State for her master’s degree, beginning that fall — Rogers’ freshman season.
Not only did she want to be around for her brother, but she didn’t think she could handle being in Oxford while Rogers played for the Rebels’ most hated foe.
“You know how it is: It’s a rivalry, and people say crazy things and do crazy things,” she said. “It’s hard to hear people talk about your family members in spiteful ways. That’s not an easy thing to deal with. Just because I know myself, I knew that I would need to be at State.”
COVID-19 delayed Rogers’ debut season, but his family made plans to attend the season opener at LSU on Sept. 26, 2020.
Anna Grace was in the car with her bags packed, ready to head to Baton Rouge, when she got a text from her brother: “Don’t leave. Nobody leave yet.”
Rogers’ next message: “I just tested positive.”
Rogers was fine, but the trip was torpedoed.
“I was like, ‘Are you kidding me?’” Anna Grace said. “I was so upset. … We’d been waiting for football for so long, and I love football.”
‘Don’t hit him too hard’
On Sept. 17, Anna Grace and her family finally made it to Death Valley.
The week before, they went to Arizona. Last season’s road trips included Texas A&M, Arkansas, Auburn and Vanderbilt.
“That’s been a really fun part of it: getting to travel around and see different schools,” Anna Grace said.
For home games, the Rogers family has developed a routine. They line the Junction for Mississippi State’s pregame “Dawg Walk” then enter Davis Wade Stadium two hours early. That meant an 8 a.m. arrival for last week’s 11 a.m. game against Bowling Green, and their duty doesn’t end when the game does.
“We wait for an hour and a half for him to come out of the locker room when it’s over,” Anna Grace said. “It’s fun. It’s really fun.”
She means that sincerely. Sitting in Section 2 at Davis Wade, the Rogers family typically sits near the same players’ relatives. They greet safety Collin Duncan’s parents or celebrate with the families of linebackers Jett Johnson and Sherman Timbs.
Touchdowns require a dozen high-fives, one for everyone in the area. But each game requires prayer — for success for the Bulldogs as well as health for Rogers in the pocket.
“That’s part of the prayer: ‘Just don’t hit him too hard,’” Anna Grace said. “I don’t like watching my brother get hit, that’s for sure. I love a big offensive lineman. We need those guys, for sure.”
Rogers’ sister said it’s hard to sit near her grandmother, who will “freak out” when the MSU quarterback is sacked or taken down.
It’s a little scary for Anna Grace, too.
“I know he’s big. He’s an adult,” she said. “But I’m like, ‘It’s my little brother.’ I don’t need no 6-foot-5, 300-pound guy coming to get him.”
Signs of maturity
Rogers used to take losses hard.
Now, in his junior year, that’s changed. After Mississippi State’s 31-16 setback at LSU, Rogers simply resolved to “get ready for next week” rather than dwell on the defeat.
“He used to be super emotional,” Anna Grace said. “If they would lose, he would just be in a bad mood. He really isn’t anymore. He handles things a lot better, I feel like.”
Even after victories, the same holds true. Rogers has embraced the “never too high, never too low” mentality preached by former MSU baseball star Tanner Allen — one that sure worked out well for the Bulldogs on the diamond in 2021.
“When they win, he says he gives himself that night and then he’s back to it,” Anna Grace said. “I don’t even think he gives himself that night. He’s pretty much immediately like, ‘Alright, that was good, we did good, so-and-so had a good game, and now we’re off to A&M.’”
It’s paying off for Rogers, who ranks eighth in the nation in completion percentage and second in yards per game and sits in a tie for first in touchdown passes. He’s taken strides as a leader in the locker room, too.
But it’s what Rogers has done off the field that makes his family proudest.
The Bulldogs quarterback recently signed a name, image and likeness deal in which Make-A-Wish Mississippi earns $1,000 for each Rogers touchdown pass, with the money coming from Simmons Erosion Control, Inc. So far, that’s $16,000.
“I think he’s used his platform in a great way,” Anna Grace said. “I think the football thing is awesome, but him giving back is really cool.”
‘That’s my brother’
Anna Grace wanted to stick around.
Before graduating from Mississippi State with her master’s in mathematics, she looked at teaching jobs around the area — at both the high school and college levels.
Anna Grace had a cousin whose children had gone to Heritage Academy before the family moved to Georgia, and she herself had played her share of Winston Academy basketball games at the Columbus school.
“We’ve been coming to Heritage forever,” she said.
Hired in April, she got a job that includes teaching regular and honors geometry, regular and honors Algebra II and a dual-credit class through Mississippi University for Women — intermediate algebra this semester, college algebra next semester.
Anna Grace’s chosen subject is perhaps the one area in which her brother doesn’t relish trying to outdo her.
“Will does not like math,” she said. “Will is not a fan of math. He is good at math when he applies himself; he does not like math.
“I was helping him with stats his freshman year, and he was like, ‘You know what? I’m not sure about all of this.’”
What does Rogers care about? Football, of course. Competing with his roommates — wide receiver Austin Williams and quarterback Chance Lovertich — in golf or Ping-Pong. Trying his hardest to win a card game or a video game.
And his sister.
The two live three minutes and barely a mile apart in Starkville, and Rogers tries to drop by whenever he has a free moment. That’s not as much during football season — maybe once a week — but Anna Grace, the coach’s daughter, always understands.
“It’s nice to be able to be close to him and be able to spend some time with him,” she said.
In the offseason, they do more together. Instead of grabbing dinner or a quick visit, they’ll drive out to the family hunting land in Noxubee County. There, Rogers can relax, shaking off the pressures of Starkville and SEC football.
When game time does roll around again, though, he’s always ready.
And while Anna Grace might not find it as cool as her students do, watching Will — just Will — play will always be special.
“There have not been many moments where I’m kind of fangirling,” she said. “It’s mostly just like, ‘That’s my brother.’
Theo DeRosa reports on Mississippi State sports for The Dispatch. Follow him on Twitter at @Theo_DeRosa.
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