Mike Rogers lives right next to a lake in the middle of nowhere, further removed from Easton in both body and spirit than he ever could have imagined a year ago at this time.
"It's not too bad, "he says, "but it's not too good either."
Limbo might be the best description.
Rogers, back in town for a visit over the holidays, popped into the 25th Street Gymnasium on Saturday to watch his former teammates and others in action at the Easton Invitational.
A year ago, he was a Red Rover senior heading toward his second state wrestling title in three years and already was signed, sealed and three-quarters delivered to the University of Nebraska upon completion of that chore.
The only thing standing in his way was the formality of an ACT exam he knew he'd improve upon by at least a point the second and third times he took it.
"With my grades (at Easton), I needed to get an 18 on my ACT, "Rogers says. "I got a 16 the first time I took it. I thought, 'no problem.' The second time I took it, I got a 17. And the third time, I got a 17."
Which meant Northern Idaho College, a two-year institution, instead of the Division I Cornhuskers; Coeur d'Alene, Idaho, instead of Lincoln, Neb.; Limbo instead of Nirvana.
"I was crushed (by the ACT results), "Rogers says. "I cried. I cried bad. Actually, when I first got the letter and looked at it, I thought ... I didn't want to wrestle anymore."
When the initial shock wore off, Rogers realized he didn't have many options. He went off to Northern Idaho and began hitting the books as much as the wrestling room. He's currently No. 1 at 157 pounds in the most recent National Junior College Athletic Association rankings.
"Right now, I'm not really even worrying about wrestling, "says Rogers, who cracked a couple of ribs while rolling in the room with assistant coach Travis Liermann last month, "I just want to get my grades up, do what I can do to get in Nebraska.
"If I go to school all summer, there's a community college right next to Lincoln. If I get there and I need like three more credits, I can go take classes and then transfer to Nebraska halfway through their season or right at the start and then wrestle off and get on the team that way. I've got to bust my butt."
If he does, he can get to Nebraska without losing any eligibility. If not ...
Naturally, most of the Internet chatter, rarely favorable even when Rogers was one of Easton's favorite sons, radically began to grow more negative by the hour when he didn't make it to Nebraska in September. He was a thug. He was a druggie. If not for the fact that he was born more than two decades after JFK's assassination, he might well have been blamed for that as well.
"Back in high school, that stuff used to really hurt me, "he admits, "but I don't care anymore. If I know I'm doing good, then I'm doing good, you know? If someone says I'm doing horrible, then I really don't care, because no one really knows me. All those people that go on (the Internet) never talked to me once. They never had a conversation with me. It's not just me. They trash a whole bunch of people.
"And you know what? Who cares?"
The truth about Rogers is that he hasn't been a very good student and probably never will be. He also is an excellent wrestler with a very good chance to be great.
You could see this at Easton every time he took mat. All but 17 of his 124 career wins came in his last three seasons. He never finished lower than fourth in districts, regionals or states.
His tight-waist tilt remains legendary and was the primary move that carried him to all those postseason medals and The Express-Times Wrestler of the Year award for 2004.
There also is no limit to his still-untapped freestyle potential.
This is what keeps him going in the classroom and on the mat.
Rogers is not nearly as homesick as he should be, probably because he has a girlfriend out there and because the middle of nowhere is otherwise distraction-free. This is why he plans to remain there for summer classes.
"If I come home, "Rogers says, "I'll get in too much trouble. It's not worth it."
If he stays put, he has a chance to get back to Nebraska.
( Nick Fierro is a columnist for The Express-Times. Write to him at Box 391, Easton, PA 18044-0391 or e-mail him at [email protected]