GRAND FORKS — In high school, the University of North Dakota senior Donnell Rodgers played exclusively at running back for Woodbury High School in Minnesota.
Five years later, Rodgers is leaving his mark as one of UND's best linebackers of the Division I era.
The 6-foot-1, 238-pound captain ranks seventh in the FCS in tackles per game (10.9) and is on pace to break UND's Division I record for total tackles in a season as the No. 22 Fighting Hawks prepare for a steep road test at No. 3 Weber State at 3 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 9, in Ogden, Utah.
"You know I just love football," Rodgers said. "You just have to be there for your team. When you wake up, you have to do your job. That's my mindset."
Rodgers has been manning the middle of UND's defense for three years, although his sophomore season was cut short due to a leg injury in Week 2 against Missouri State.
With Rodgers in the lineup the last three years, UND is 12-9 overall. Without him, UND is 2-7.
"We know what we're going to get with him, not only on game day, but practice," UND defensive coordinator Eric Schmidt said. "One of the unquestioned leaders of our team, so we've been really pleased with Donnell."
Rodgers has had at least 10 tackles in six of UND's eight games this season, including 15 stops against Cal Poly's triple option attack three weeks ago and 13 stops against run-heavy Montana State two weeks ago.
Rodgers leads UND with 6.5 tackles for loss and is second on the team in sacks with 3.
"A few years ago I had that injury that took me out, so I'm always nervous about that, but I've been feeling really good this season, actually," Rodgers said. "I've been going to treatment pretty much every day working on things that might not necessarily hurt but feel a little messed up."
With three weeks left in the regular season, Rodgers can sense his career winding down.
"I have to give it everything I've got," he said. "It's my senior year, and I think we have a special group. We care for each other and play for each other."
After his injury-plagued sophomore season, Rodgers rebounded by leading UND in solo tackles (49) and total tackles (72) last year.
Rodgers is 17 assisted tackles away from becoming the first player since 1997 to have more than 70 in a season. He's 27 total tackles from becoming the first player since Digger Anderson to have 114 in a season.
In terms of the all-time record book, Rodgers is 48 assisted tackles away from catching Mike Mannausau for 10th all-time at UND and 58 total tackles away from catching Brad Wagner from 10th all-time.
Currently, Rodgers is second in UND's Division I history with 105 assisted tackles in his career and places third with 202 total tackles.
"I think we've always felt like he's a guy who's a championship-type guy on the field and off the field, as well," Schmidt said. "He's a really good student and learner in football. Early in his career, he learned from Will Ratelle and Conner O'Brien. It's a testament to him that he was one our hugest injuries in 2017. He's been of our best since (our staff) has been here and that's saying a lot. He's in there with those names like Will and Conner. He's an important piece for us, and we have to continue to lean on him."