By Parrish Alford/NEMS Daily Journal
OXFORD – Roads around Northeast Mississippi have improved dramatically since the 1960s, but even then getting from Calhoun City to Oxford wasn’t that bad.
It shouldn’t have taken 20 years.
Lying on the floor in the back room of his grandmother’s cafe on the city square, Langston Rogers envisioned himself at Ole Miss – much like he once envisioned the Rebels under the lights of Tiger Stadium in Baton Rouge.
Detours to Scooba and Cleveland added two decades to Rogers’ trip. They were time delays, sure, but the route was a path of kindness, others helping to look out for a youngster whose mother had died before he was a year old.
Along the way, Rogers gave back by way of loyalty to people and to the schools he served – and by setting on the right path many others who envisioned themselves in the same career field.
Call it sports publicity, sports information or media relations. The names have changed, but the work, and Rogers’ devotion to it, has remained the same.
It took Langston Rogers 20 years to get to Ole Miss, but it’s taken him 29 years to leave.
“He’s been a stellar All-American performer for 29 years,” Ole Miss athletics director Pete Boone said. “He’s been through three or four chancellors and ADs and more head coaches than we want to talk about.”
Just a call away
Rogers is leaving his office but not the campus.
Friday was his last day as Associate Athletics Director for Media Relations. It is expected that he will be a part of future special events and projects. No doubt Rogers will be contacted quickly when questions of Ole Miss history arise.
Having told the stories of athletes and coaches at then-East Mississippi Junior College, Delta State and finally Ole Miss for almost 50 years, Rogers has lived a lot of history.
The Ole Miss history he didn’t see first-hand he made it a point to learn, developing relationships through the years with the All-Americans who played football for former coach John Vaught.
Rogers became a close friend of Vaught’s after arriving at Ole Miss in 1981, an even closer friend in Vaught’s final years, handling occasional interview requests but being a friend and a listener off the clock, too. Ironically, it was Vaught who put up the stop sign that sent Rogers to Scooba and ultimately to Cleveland.
Before he arrived at Ole Miss, Rogers, now 66, had solid background knowledge of Vaught’s highly successful teams, because most boys growing up in Mississippi did. In the storied tradition of Ole Miss football wins, Rogers remembers with perfect clarity where he was on the night of the school’s most famous loss, to LSU.
“On Halloween night when Billy Cannon ran the punt back, I was in high school then, and I was at the cafe. We had a little back room, and I would go back there, lay down on the floor, cut the lights off, turn on the radio and visualize what Tiger Stadium was like,” Rogers said.
Rogers thought he would attend Ole Miss right out of high school as a football manager, aspiring journalist and baseball player.
But Vaught had a rule that freshmen could not be on scholarship. Rogers needed the financial aid, and there was no further discussion.
After Rogers’ mother died, there had been family discussion of splitting up him and an older brother and sister, because they couldn’t be raised by their father, a Merchant Marine stationed in Florida.
Ultimately, Olivia and Buck Langston, Rogers’ maternal grandparents, took in all three children and raised them in Calhoun City.
“My grandmother put her foot down and said, ‘We’re not going to separate these kids.’ She and my grandfather took three babies to raise, and they were in their late 40s when they did that.”
Rogers grew up playing baseball and working a variety of jobs around Calhoun City – making as much as $12 shining shoes on a good Saturday – including one at the Monitor-Herald newspaper. His official work was maintenance, but he developed an interest in writing. His first story for the Monitor-Herald was game coverage of youth baseball and included a byline with “sports writer” spelled r-i-t-e-r.
The copy editor allowed the mistake to reach print, to teach the 8-year-old Rogers a lesson on the importance of spelling. To this day he’s never far from a dictionary.
Rogers was able to overcome the early problem with spelling. As he grew he honed his skills by reading high school and college sports coverage from former Daily Journal sports editor Bill Ross.
Rogers would make a mental note of phrases that he liked and use them where appropriate. It was flattery by imitation, not plagiarism.
Upon graduation in 1961, Rogers transitioned to Scooba. Legendary coach Bob “Bull” Sullivan had been to Calhoun City looking for football players. Friends told him of Rogers’ interests, accomplishments and need for help, and Sullivan put him on scholarship.
He became the football statistician, student SID and a baseball player.
Among other things, Rogers served as a first lieutenant of sorts to Sullivan. Sometimes that meant fetching a shotgun when Sullivan saw a plane circling a practice field and identified it as full of spies from opposing teams.
Rogers played baseball at EMJC, served as editor of the student newspaper and student body president and SID. He was the primary producer of news for the football team, writing news releases and mailing them to the newspapers in the nearest cities, including Meridian and Columbus.
“It was a family atmosphere, and it was a father-son relationship that I had with Coach,” Rogers said.
As such, Sullivan would often summon Rogers to ride to Meridian or Columbus. During those trips, Rogers would give his impressions of the team and would enlighten the coach to challenges players were facing away from football with which Sullivan might be able to help.
Eventually, Sullivan had his own story to tell, of Rogers’ skill and need for assistance, when Delta State football coach Horace McCool was in Scooba looking for players.
Rogers played baseball for former DSU coach Boo Ferriss. He continued his work in sports journalism, ultimately becoming the school’s first full-time SID. He remained there until he was hired at Ole Miss in 1981.
A matter of loyalty
Rogers actually had the chance to reach Ole Miss a few years before but pulled out of the running to replace the late SID Billy Gates and told the search team it should hire Bobo Champion, Gates’ assistant, instead.
“Bobo had been extremely loyal, and loyalty means a lot to me,” Rogers said. “I guess that goes back to my grandmother and what she taught me. I had a great job in Cleveland, and my family was settled there.”
When former Ole Miss athletics director Warner Alford needed an SID the next time, he looked only to Delta State and Rogers.
“I was second-guessed on a lot of hires, but I was never second-guessed on Langston,” Alford said.
Rogers and Alford worked together for 16 years. They developed and maintain a close friendship.
At Delta State, Rogers had already begun to make a name for himself among his peers nationally, and that continued with his work at Ole Miss.
He’s been inducted into various halls of fame and in 2001 received the Arch Ward Award, the highest recognition presented for career achievement by the College Sports Information Directors of America.
Rogers remains active and serves on key CoSIDA committees.
“I don’t know that I’ve ever had anyone with the loyalty, devotion and work ethic that Langston possesses,” Alford said. “Lord knows so many boys have achieved recognition, because Langston was working for them.”
Rogers’ reputation among his peers was strengthened in part, Alford said, because of their trust in Rogers to “shoot straight” with them when he was promoting an Ole Miss athlete for All-American consideration.
“We have benefitted by his reputation across the U.S.,” Alford said. “At Ole Miss, we’ve had to put a lot of things behind us, but we’ve moved forward and become a spotlight in the country.”
While Rogers moves on, beams from his spotlight remain. One of them is Charles Bloom, an associate commissioner for the Southeastern Conference, who oversees the league’s media relations. Bloom passed through Ole Miss in the late 1980s.
“More than anything else, Langston taught me about responsibility. He said, ‘Charles, you run the press box, and you’ve got men’s basketball.’ At times I’d go to him and say this thing or that didn’t get done. He would say, ‘You can delegate, but at the end, I’ve given you the responsibility to make sure it gets done.’ ”
What strikes Bloom even to this day is how Rogers has maintained the personal touch even while the business of communication has sped up and often doesn’t allow for such.
“He knows what’s important in dealing with individuals,” Bloom said. “With all the new media that has come his way, internet and e-mail, he’s the master of the hand-written note, the phone call and the face-to-face visit.”
Something else hasn’t changed through the years. In such communication, the promotion of others is still where Rogers feels most comfortable.
“It took me 20 years to get here,” said Rogers, voice cracking while addressing a gathering around the Grove stage recently. “Twenty years later they hired me, and I’ve been so proud to be here.”
Rogers boxed up memorabilia and personal belongings a couple of weeks ago, but his most cherished possessions are the memories of those who stopped by on their way out just to say thanks, football All-Americans like Wesley Walls, Terrance Metcalf, Eli Manning, Deuce McAllister and many others.
“That’s why I did it,” Rogers said. “To see those student athletes come in as kids and leave as adults. It’s not about me. It’s about the student-athletes, coaches and administrators.”
Contact Parrish Alford at 678-1600 or firstname.lastname@example.org.