Affectionately — and aptly — nicknamed “The Professor” on the pro beach volleyball tour, Santa Barbara native Todd Rogers is characteristically pragmatic as he ponders his second journey to the Olympics.
This year, Rogers and Dalhausser enter the London Games as the No. 2 seed, behind Brazilians Alison Cerutti and Emanuel Rego. The two teams were neck and neck in the international standings when a travel documentation error reportedly prevented Team USA from playing the final two Fédération Internationale de Volleyball (FIVB) qualifying events.
But make no mistake, Rogers is in it to win it.
“When we’re playing our best, I just don’t think there’s a team that can beat us,” he told Noozhawk. “At this point, it’s almost all just a mental game for me. Keeping my body healthy, no doubt, that’s the No. 1 thing on the physical side. But I know what I need to accomplish and most of that’s just mental.”
Training isn’t much different this time, says Rogers, who lives in Solvang with his wife, Melissa, daughter Hannah, 13, and son Nate, 11.
“There’s no real reason for us to change anything dramatically,” he said. “I’m getting older (he’ll turn 39 in September) so I try to be intelligent about stretching, icing and taking care of my body because I’m not as durable as I was four years ago.”
Rogers began playing volleyball on the beach at the urging of Jon Lee, his coach at San Marcos High School.
“He encouraged all of us freshman boys to go down to East Beach and play,” Rogers recalled. “He said, ‘You’ll become a much better indoor player if you go and play on the beach.’
“It’s a lot of fun. We were all 14-year-old boys. You’ve got lots of girls in bikinis down there, you’ve got your shirt off, you’re running around in your shorts — it was a pretty easy sell for us!”
Rogers, who was twice named best athlete during high school, chuckles at the memory.
“I fell in love with it right away,” he said. “And I haven’t stopped playing. I didn’t stop playing when I was in college (at UCSB) and just kept going with it.”
Ironically, soccer was Rogers’ favorite childhood sport. As a high school senior, he tried — and failed — to get a college scholarship to play.
“I could have walked on a couple of places,” he said. “But some volleyball teams were recruiting me and so I ended up playing at UCSB. I still went out and made the soccer team my freshman year.”
While volleyball and soccer are very different sports, Rogers says there’s more crossover than meets the eye.
“For me, trying to stay with a smaller, quicker, faster guy in soccer, I had to use perfect footwork and everything had to be on balance,” he said. “I found that actually correlated really well to playing defense on the beach. It’s about having good balance, recognizing what’s going on, what’s going to happen and being able to anticipate, which was what I had to do in soccer just to stay alive!”
That kind of thoughtful analysis of both his sport and his skills is a big part of what makes “The Professor” so dominating on the sand. Dalhausser, who moved to Santa Barbara in 2005 to train with Rogers, credits his partner with being his own coach of sorts.
“I never really had a beach volleyball coach at all,” he said in an interview with USA Today. “So I knew he would kind of teach me how to play volleyball, and that’s exactly what he did.”
Rogers was the assistant men’s volleyball coach at UCSB from 2000 to 2005, but left to train full time for Beijing. Most of his training is more running and lifting than actually playing.
“We really don’t start hitting the ball around until late January, early February,” said Rogers, who begins Olympic play Saturday. “There’s just not much reason to do so at a really early stage. ... I’m kind of a burnout athlete; I’ve discovered that about myself. I just can’t do that much, otherwise I will be sick of the sport.”
Of course, Rogers has plenty of other things to keep him occupied.
“I’ve gotten into some business stuff and have started to enjoy that as well,” he explained. “That’s something that I’m going to be seriously looking at ... so that when I retire, which is right around the corner in the next couple of years or so, I’ve got some active things going that will provide me with income and, hopefully, that I will enjoy.”
Rogers admits he’s starting to think about retirement more often.
“It’s just the reality of the situation,” he said. “I’ve really never wanted to play much into my 40s. ... I’m not going to do anything extraordinarily stupid, but I’m still going to surf, I’m still going to do the things I enjoy like snowboarding, and if I get hurt doing those things then I’m just not going to concern myself with it.”
Gardening is also favorite hobby, along with coaching his kids’ sports teams. The family has a beach volleyball court in its backyard and often plays just for fun — although Rogers says Hannah is becoming a strong player.
The entire family will be in London to cheer on the team and do some sightseeing.
“There are a ton of things that are really relevant to our history as Americans, having a lot of people who started our country coming from Great Britain, and London in particular,” he said. “And there are just so many cool sights to see there.”
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Noozhawk and its partner site, Presidio Sports, will continue to track the progress of local Olympic athletes.
» Click here for Presidio Sports’ coverage of the 2012 London Olympics.
» Click here for a previous Noozhawk Talks on local Olympic hopefuls.
» Click here for a previous Noozhawk Talks with Olympic water polo star Kami Craig.