Sprinting past defenders, Stevie Rocker burst onto the high school football scene with a highlight reel play during Canyon del Oro’s opening game.
The 15-year-old sophomore, making his varsity appearance, galloped to the right on a counter run play, blowing through a Flowing Wells linebacker before cutting upfield.
He was gone, racing 46 yards for the score, putting a cap on a debut performance to remember, including 19 carries for 173 yards, and three trips to the end zone.
It was the kind of individual effort that put a smile on the face of longtime Dorado head coach Dustin Peace, despite his team’s gut wrenching 38-37 loss on Caballero turf.
“I knew that we couldn’t keep [Rocker] a secret for long,” Peace said. “And I knew he was going to have a breakout game—and that’s just what he did.”
Rocker has the chance to write his name in the school’s record books, along with brothers Ka’Deem and Elijah Carey, who ran for 5,701 and 3,106 yards, respectively, in their high school careers.
Peace believes that Rocker’s debut performance on Friday, Aug. 17 was just the tip of the iceberg, with room for improvement in his attack.
“The cat’s out of the bag,” he said. “You’re going to hear a lot about this young man for the next three years. For us to rush for 318 yards right out of the gate, we’re only going to get better up front. So, to have that as something to lean on for the next three years is something great for our program.”
Carrying the load is nothing new for Rocker, who starred on two national championship American Youth Football teams.
Rocker is something of a football wunderkind, playing the game at a high level since he first toed the gridiron at the age of 4. The Arizona native showed his mettle against the Caballeros, but believes his best performances are ahead of him.
He’s ready to carry the torch from the Carey brothers, touching on how much the high school’s history of top-notch backs means to him.
“It’s great, because there aren’t a lot of schools that have as many players going pro from my position,” he said. “Usually, it’s just kind of all over the place. But here, it’s just running backs and it’s good for me.”
Rocker’s path to backfield notoriety took a circuitous route, starting his career at offensive guard before his first coaches realized his untapped athleticism and top line speed.
He’s thrilled to carry the ball, and certainly looks the part of a future Division I running back, standing a hair over 6 feet tall and close to 200 pounds.
According to Rocker, his favorite aspect of playing running back is having the opportunity to blow through overmatched defenders for touchdowns. That’s far from the only thing he savors—he just loves putting his team in good field position.
“Even if I run a 30-something yard play and I only get to the five and another player runs one in, then that’s good enough for me,” he said.
It’s that team-first mentality that’s helped Rocker win over older Dorados from the start, according to Peace, who added that the young man is already a team leader despite his relatively young age. The Dorados head coach attributes this success to Rocker’s selfless attitude and unmatched work ethic.
“The great thing about Stevie is that he’s liked by his teammates,” Peace said. “We’ve been very lucky with our top tier players being able to be liked by their teammates. It’s hard for a sophomore that just comes up and taking seniors’ jobs, and to be liked by teammates because of his hard work and just how he interacts as a teammate.”
Being one of the guys is second-nature to Rocker, who said he’s willing to do just about anything to help his team succeed on Friday nights.
His maturity at his position comes in part from his family’s deep ties to the game, with first cousin Samaje Perine playing the same position for the Washington Redskins, while second cousin Julio Jones is an All-Pro wideout with the Atlanta Falcons.
Rocker sees both men as an inspiration, but said he hopes to one day replicate the Perine’s career at Pflugerville High School in Texas and the University of Oklahoma, where he was an All-American in 2014.
He’s taken his cousin’s workout routines to heart, using a variety of speed-training exercises, including ladder drills and running up sand-laden hills to build strength in his ankles and calves.
His work has paid dividends, helping him recover from a nasty high ankle sprain that kept him off the field for much of his freshman season.
Off the field, Rocker said spends his free time drawing with pencils, spending much of his sparse amount of free time creatively.
He believes that artistic spirit lends itself to his on-the-field skillset, as he can read defenses and creatively hit open spaces because of his sketching skills.
“[Drawing] takes a lot of focus, the little details that you’ve got to look forward to,” he said. “If something happens when you’re drawing something, or you mess up a little line, it’ll kind of mess with you a little bit and if you do one thing wrong in a game and you see it on film, it messes with you the same way.”
Peace believes the sophomore’s plethora of talents come together under the lights on game nights, resulting in big plays that catch the attention of coaches at the collegiate level.
Rocker, in Peace’s words, has the chance to tear down the walls around him and build a legacy of his own that will stand the test of time.
“He’s a competitor,” Peace said. “We don’t have to talk about other guys, but he knows that we’ve seen Ka’Deem and Elijah. We’ve seen some of the top running backs in the state come through here. The expectation is high, but we know what Stevie’s capable of.”