When Cane Bay High football coach Russell Zehr looks at his star player, R.J. Roderick, projects him transitioning to a spot than quarterback, he sees a little of a former player.
It’s a deep pull from his past, a name that might only pop for a historian of South Carolina high school football or for having the same as a former No. 1 NFL draft pick.
Mario Williams quarterbacked Ninety Six High to back-to-back state title games in 1999 and 2000, winning the second. He became a full-time safety at Gardner-Webb, twice earning conference defensive player of the year and All-American honors before an injury curtailed his senior season.
And on that path, from dynamic option quarterback to rangy college defender, is where Zehr sees Roderick.
“He’s about the same size as Mario,” Zehr said, “a little bit bigger. But as far and his ball skills and his demeanor, he’s very similar.”
He’ll be bringing that to the South Carolina football team after committing to Will Muschamp on Saturday.
Roderick’s offers were bigger than Williams’ list, and the range of spots he could play was far wider. Beyond the offer to play safety in Columbia, the 6-foot, athletic 208-pounder could have gone to N.C. State to play wide receiver, had Clemson interest at running back and nearly every option school and even Virginia with its spread offense offered him as a quarterback.
Many high school quarterbacks want to hold onto that as they move up a level, but Roderick wasn’t in that mold. The allure of playing behind center doesn’t have the overarching pull. He just wants to find his spot and settle in.
“I just can develop somewhere, just be at one position,” Roderick said. “I want to embrace it now. I have all the athleticism, the ability to do so. It’s just a matter of going out there and making it happen.”
Roderick played some defense late last season, and he said the transition of going to defensive meetings was an easy one. He’d been held back on that side because of his importance to the Cobras offense. Zehr said Roderick has enough feel for the game that he calls half the team’s plays at the line.
“It’s something that, a lot of it is self-explanatory playing quarterback,” Roderick said of picking up defense. “It’s something that I understand on the offensive side of the ball. So it kind of translates easier for me than it would for somebody just coming into playing defense.
“A lot of that stuff (are) just telltale things.”
Not being tied to the quarterback position speaks to Roderick’s history coming to it. He was a running back in his younger years at Stratford (where his brother played defensive end), and he admitted it meant he played quarterback with a running back’s mentality.
As a junior, his game grew more unselfish, the reads slowed down and he orchestrated an attack that ran for 375 yards a game (Roderick ran for 1,778 and averaged more than 21 yards per pass completion).
Roderick said he’s hoping to major in engineering in college and he will graduate from Cane Bay in December to enroll early at USC.
Zehr started to know what he had back during Roderick’s sophomore year. He figured he had a special talent on his hands, one whose stock would rise soon enough.
Now he’s got an SEC defensive back running the show for him on offense.
The coach also noted things started coming together when college coaches met Roderick, whose “yes-sir, no-sir” personality comes through right away.
“He’s one of those kids,” Zehr said. “Works hard in the weight room, works hard at practice. He’s also one of those kids who does the right thing, doesn’t get in trouble in school, makes good grades, got good test scores. He’s really just an all-around good kid.”