One of the most prolific running backs in Southern Arizona will make his long-awaited season debut on Friday night.
Canyon del Oro (5-0) junior running back Stevie Rocker, who ran for 1,163 yards and 12 touchdowns as a sophomore in 2018, will take the field for the first time this week, as the Dorados play 4A Kino region rival, Catalina Foothills.
Rocker has battled a high ankle sprain, which he suffered in the team’s preseason scrimmage against Walden Grove in August, a similar injury to the one he suffered against Prescott in 2018.
Rocker made waves during the summer, receiving scholarship offers from Brigham Young University, the Nevada-Reno, the University of California-Berkeley and the University of Arizona.
The prodigal back said he’s thrilled to have the chance to take the field for the Dorados, who are off to their best start since the 2010 season.
“It feels great to finally be back. I feel like I've been out for a pretty long while even though it's been a really short amount of time when I really go into a deep thought about it, but it feels great to be back, especially back with our team doing as good as they are,” Rocker said. “It feels like I'm just coming back into something that they've already started. So, it just puts me back into a vital point.”
Rocker will split carries on Friday night with senior Gavin Davis, who currently leads the Dorados offensively, with 496 rushing yards and six touchdowns.
Longtime CDO coach Dustin Peace said Rocker’s return will provide the team an added boost offensively, guiding them through the toughest part of their schedule.
“I think it's very reassuring to our team,” Peace said. “Through the course of the five weeks of the buildup of the year, you have that expectation where we can have a home run hitter at any play any moment.
“Having that ability and having that experience to have a guy like that. That could go and just hit a home run on any team is going to be a huge advantage for us.”
Rocker said he’s excited to see how his presence can impact the team’s offense, adding an extra element to a Dorados team that currently ranks 11th overall in the new Open Division (and fourth overall in 4A).
Rocker said the team is finally coming into its own, after losing several players to injuries in the first half of the year.
“I feel like I'm coming back to something that's unfinished because we started out the season with almost 10 kids out with six of our starters out too,” Rocker said. “And it just started to gradually pick up from there. But, once we came back to this week, we figured out that once we have a full stack team.
“We're trying to figure out what we're supposed to do with ourselves since we got so used to having so little kids.”
Rocker’s return to a team that’s already averaging 264 rushing yards per game in its first five contests excites Peace, who believes having a healthy Rocker and Davis is a game-changer for the team.
Peace knows how tough it’ll be to knock off 4A Kino stalwarts (and fellow unbeatens) Salpointe Catholic and Sahuaro, both of whom await the team in the coming weeks.
He believes that having two top-notch backs can allow the Dorados to keep opposing defenses on their heels, giving the team a shot of accomplishing something special this fall.
“That's a part of what the recipe is for a special kind of team. To be able to answer up to a lot of calls, not with just him gone, but with that figurehead gone and some other guys gone, and other guys stepping up and doing it,” Peace said. “It's really, really cool. Now what has to happen, in my end of the world, is getting everybody to embrace their roles as they're kind of changing now. People's roles are changing.”
Rocker has been a steady presence, both in games and in practice, during his seven-week recovery from injury, giving pointers to Davis and serving a role that’s equal parts therapist and hype man to his teammates.
Through it all, Rocker has remained upbeat, with an eye on his eventual return to the lineup for Peace and the Dorados.
That moment has finally arrived for the junior and Rocker’s ready to capitalize against the Falcons on Friday night.
“It's been kind of tough to sit there and watch it,” Rocker said. “I mean, it'd be tough for anybody that goes injured and especially to be an important part of the offense, but I was helping out on the sidelines helping out with Gavin back there, helping him out with figuring out defenses.
“Trying to break down the defenses to him to tell him like what's good, what's wrong, what are you doing right and stuff like that. But now that it's back it's just great to be back.”