The Cardinal Newman Cardinals are set to take on the Hammond Skyhawks in the semifinals of the SCISA 4A playoffs Friday, November 10.
A big part of how the 9-2 Cardinals have made it this far is because of the improved play of their defense. Cardinal Newman went from giving up an average of 33.6 points per game in 2022 to an average of 15.9 points and 157.9 yards per game in 2023.
Part of that improvement can be credited to the play of twin, linebackers Braxton and David Rogers.
David, who’s older, leads the defense with 79 tackles, 7.5 sacks, and three forced fumbles. Braxton is second on the team with 59 tackles, 8.5 sacks, one fumble recovery, and an interception.
“It’s really tough to quantify what those guys do,” Cardinal Newman defensive coordinator Marcus McGill said. “The energy with which they play the game with is unparalleled, whether they are making plays or doing their job by filling in gaps. They pick up their teammates with how they play.”
It isn’t hard to identify the two defensive leaders. Their intensity from the start of the play to the end of it announces who they are.
“We want to be the smartest,” Braxton said. “We are going to give 110 percent. We may not be the biggest, fastest, or strongest, but we always have the hardest work ethic. We go on the field and have the mindset that no matter how big you are or how fast you are, we’re going to hit you and you’re going to feel it on every play.”
The two enjoy sharing not only the field together but being able to play side-by-side.
“It’s a 24/7 competition,” David said. “It’s great having my best friend by my side all the time.”
“ You know that no matter what happens on the field, we always have each other’s back,” Braxton said. “ We never have to look over our shoulder or worry about there being someone beside us. Playing side-by-side with each other is something we’ve always cherished.”
While both have flourished on the field, their success has come with its share of adversity. Both players sustained injuries last year, David broke his arm against Heathwood, and Braxton had to be carried off the field in an ambulance against Ben Lippen.
“It was tough going into a game without David,” Braxton said of the Ben Lippen game. “That was the first time that’s ever happened. I learned not to take it for granted. You never know what can happen on the football field.”
“I figured out that any game could be my last game,” David said. “I have to go out every play, every drive and work as hard as I can.”
While McGill credits the players with overcoming those injuries, he believes there are others who deserve credit as well.
“Those guys are pretty resilient,” McGill said. “It’s hard as a coach when the ambulance comes out and then you see mom and dad. Those guys were raised by two really good parents. Their parents have supported our program from day one. Their dad is one of the loudest people in the stands. They are positive when they support us. Braxton and David bouncing back from their injuries speaks a lot about how they were brought up.”
Braxton also faced adversity when learning to play linebacker. David has played the position since Pee Wee. However, Braxton was a quarterback until he came to Cardinal Newman. According to Braxton, David helped him learn to read gaps, get in the right gap scheme, and everything else that comes with playing linebacker.
Braxton has also learned how to be a better linebacker during film study. As he was preparing for a season opening game against Trinity Collegiate, he noticed the Trojans liked to throw screen passes. Early in the August 18 contest, Trinity Collegiate had thrown a couple screens. In the second quarter, Braxton jumped and intercepted a pass from Trojans’ quarterback Cade Amell and returned it for a touchdown. The play went viral on X and was the top play in Max Prep’s Plays of the Week for that week.
While both Braxton and David share the same passion for football, they are a little different off the gridiron.
“David likes hunting more than I do,” Braxton said. “I’ve been hunting a few times, but David is more of a hunter and fisherman. We like to work out together. We used to ride dirt bikes together, but that’s faded out. We like to spend time with our family and cherish the time with them.”
Preston Furman is another linebacker for the Cardinals. Coaches call him and the Rogers brothers
“The Triplets.” Their play will be vitally important as Cardinal Newman travels to Hammond’s Edens Field for a second time this season, this time with a trip to the SCISA 4A State Championship on the line.
“It means a lot,” Braxton said. “This is something Coach (Corey) Helms and Coach McGill have worked on building this program for the last two years. No one deserves it more than those guys. We’ve been talking about it all year and now it’s right in front of us. We need to execute and play our brand of football.”
Hammond won the first game on October 6 35-20. The brothers’ takeaway from that game was they need to tackle better and be more physical.
One particularly valuable asset both Braxton and David bring into Friday’s contest is their experience.
“It’s very important,” Helms said. “ They’ve played a lot of football. They’ve played in a lot of big games. Having guys like that helps with some of the other guys, who may not have played in as many big games, keep them levelheaded. We have to understand it’s just another game and something they’ve done since they were young.”
Regardless of whether Cardinal Newman wins or loses Friday night, the Rogers brothers are sure to make their presence known.
“David and Braxton are two phenomenal football players,” Helms said. “They play football the way it’s supposed to be played. They play defense with the correct mentality. They fly around and have fun. They get after it. Their energy is the glue to this team. The guys feed off their energy when they make a big play. They are definitely the leaders on the defense.
“They attack every day the same way. It doesn’t matter if it’s Week 11 of the season or we are in the weight room doing a day two lift or if we are in a physical Tuesday practice or it’s a Thursday walk through, they approach it the same way. I think that’s why they are having successful seasons.”