COLUMBIA — Chase Rome’s cheeks were bright red. Though some of the flush was a result of a long practice in the August heat, Rome blushed a decidedly deeper shade of scarlet as he listed the schools that expressed interest in him last winter.
“Oklahoma, Florida, Michigan, UCLA, Syracuse, Kansas, Kansas State, Missouri, Arkansas, Oklahoma State, Tennessee,” Rome said. “Oh what else? Wisconsin. I can’t think; there might be more.”
Rock Bridge at Lee's Summit North
WHEN: 7 p.m. Friday
As the sweat dripped from his worn practice jersey, its white No. 55 smudged with grass stains, Rome's voice trailed off.
"There was a lot," he said. "But Oklahoma State was a great fit."
The Rock Bridge High School defensive end committed to Oklahoma State University last March and will move to Stillwater after he graduates from high school in December. Though he will be playing in 2010 for a team that is ranked ninth in this year’s preseason AP Top 25 poll, Rome has managed to focus on the season facing him as a captain of the Bruins.
“You’ve just got to block everything out,” he said. “Once the college season starts, I’ll let them focus on their own team and I’ll focus on my team here. I want to help some of the younger guys in my last year here.”
Though younger players often ask him to talk about his commitment, Rome says that he would rather play in an atmosphere where attention is devoted more to the team than to any individual player. In his fourth year on the varsity squad, Rome has seen his team’s ups and downs.
The Bruins went 1-9 in 2008, and Rome attributes the team’s poor performance not to a lack of athletic talent, but rather to the absence of a team mentality. Having been a member of the team during both winning and losing seasons, Rome says that if the Bruins can play as a team, they will be successful.
His coach, A.J. Ofodile, says that Rome’s emphasis on the group aspect of the game is what keeps him focused on the upcoming season. Watching the senior crouched on one knee after practice, meeting with his teammates and listening to their ideas and Ofodile's critique, it is easy to see that he's locked into practice and the team's preparation for its first game on Friday at Lee's Summit North.
“He can now be free and focus on playing to win and making some great memories here,” Ofodile said. “This is first and foremost where your biggest legacy is going to be, and those guys understand that. It’s real hard to get in your hall of fame in college, but you can be in your high school hall of fame and be remembered.”
After a 2008 season in which he led all Missouri defensive ends in tackles and was selected to the All-State and Mid-Missouri Dream Team rosters, Rome will not be forgotten at Rock Bridge. The 6-foot-3, 275 pound 17-year-old is a force on the field and attracted his coach’s attention at an early age.
“At the time that Chase was a ninth grader in our program I could tell he’d be a high recruit,” said Ofodile. “He has some pretty unique physical talents. He can really run, has really broad shoulders and long arms. He has really good leverage and has a wrestling and martial arts background, which contributes. He’s a pretty explosive kid on the field.”
Rome also believes that his speed is one of the key aspects of his game that attracted attention from scouts.
“I think I move very well for my size, and I think I have good play recognition,” he said. “I play smart and study up on things a lot.”
He spent a lot of time on his decision to commit to Oklahoma State. He says that he committed to the Cowboys because of the straight forward staff, caliber of the program, and the great facilities.
“After seeing how some of the big programs can be, where players are a commodity, not really people, I didn’t want that,” Rome said.
In addition, Rome felt an instant connection with Oklahoma State because the Cowboys’ assistant head coach and special teams coach, Joe DeForest, went to high school with his father.
“In the end, recruiting usually comes down to relationships,” Ofodile said. “When you have those relationships that really goes a long way. There was an automatic comfort level there.”
Rome says he's already familiar with the coaches at Oklahoma State and he has met some of his future teammates on past visits to the school. For now, he says he's more focused on learning the inner workings of the program and environment, and he thinks that he'll get a better feel for the players once he begins school and practice this winter.
With his early departure from high school approaching, Rome says he's not nervous or sad about moving on.
"Everyone asks if I would want to walk across the stage at graduation, but I'd rather be playing college football," Rome said.
Rome has one last obstacle facing him in Columbia: the 2009 high school football season. Sporting his yellow and green jersey, Rome is, at the end of the day, just another member of the Rock Bridge Bruins. Thankful that his decision is behind him, Rome is determined to think less about the Cowboys, a team whose games he will not impact until at least 2010, and focus on getting his skills ready for the Big 12 while leading his team to a successful season.
“I want to get faster and stronger and smarter,” he said. “I don’t ever look at it as I’m set. Anything can happen. But it’s kind of weird knowing that, knock on wood, in a couple of months I’ll be there.”