SEATTLE — Before he became an All-American on the University of Washington football team, before he became embroiled in legal troubles, Reggie Rogers was a crowd favorite at UW basketball games in the early 1980s.
“He threw down some ferocious dunks his freshman year,” UW teammate Paul Fortier said. “We didn’t have ESPN or any of the top-10 highlights back then. If we did, he would’ve been on there. … Fans loved him.”
Rogers died Thursday in Seattle’s Central District, at age 49, after a history of alcohol abuse.
A law enforcement official said police were called to 2761 E. Yesler Way at 12:47 p.m. for a man who was not breathing and apparently dead on the porch of a home. The official confirmed it was Rogers.
Joyce Fuller, who lives on that street, said that she saw Rogers when she was walking to get coffee.
“We passed each other this morning,” Fuller said. “He was just walking up the street.”
Fuller said she later watched medics working on Rogers and overheard that he may have died of a heart attack.
The King County Medical Examiner’s Office did not release details.
Rogers, a two-sport star for the Huskies, was a first-round pick in the 1987 NFL draft, but his career flamed out after he killed three teenagers in a DUI crash.
Since then, he has been arrested for a string of DUIs, assault and other criminal traffic violations. In December 2011, he was sentenced to a year in jail for his sixth conviction for drunken driving following an arrest in Tacoma.
Fortier, the former UW standout basketball player and a UW assistant basketball coach for eight seasons until earlier this year, said he last spoke to Rogers about a year ago.
“It’s very sad for me personally,” Fortier said Thursday evening. “We came in together on basketball scholarships and I was pretty close to him during school time. It’s tough. He had his issue and problems, and at times we felt that he was doing better. …
“We talked about getting together and getting together. We never did. You just feel terrible. I look back now like maybe there was something else I could’ve done to help.”
Rogers, born Jan. 21, 1964, in Sacramento, Calif., arrived at UW as an intimidating 6-foot-6, 245-pound post player. He made an immediate impact as a freshman for Marv Harshman’s team in 1982-83.
“When Reggie would play in the post, you never got to the basket on Reggie,” recalled Dave Harshman, son of the legendary UW coach who died in April. “He would knock your head off.”
That physical nature also translated well to the football field, where Rogers was a three-year starter on defense and a consensus All-American as a senior in 1986.
He was a starting defensive lineman on the Don James team that won the Orange Bowl after the 1984 season. Earlier that season, he knocked Oregon quarterback Chris Miller from a game with a hit Ducks players bemoaned as a cheap shot, helping to inflame the Washington-Oregon rivalry.
Back in Seattle, Rogers in 2005 became a mentor for UW safety C.J. Wallace, a fellow Sacramento native whom Rogers considered a nephew. “I’ve gone through a lot of stuff,” Rogers told The Seattle Times for a story about Wallace. “It’s not so much about giving him instruction, but just letting him know what happened to me.”
During what should have been the pinnacle of Rogers’ NFL career, he ran a stop sign in Pontiac, Mich., on Oct. 20, 1988, and collided with another car, killing three teenagers. His blood-alcohol level was more than two times the legal limit and he was found guilty of negligent homicide and spent a year in prison. The Lions dropped him. He was picked up by the Buffalo Bills but played in only two games.
Rogers was the younger brother of Don Rogers, an All-American safety at UCLA and NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year with the Cleveland Browns, who died in 1986 at age 23 of a heart attack caused by a cocaine overdose. Reggie was attending the UW at the time.
Rogers’ children include Regina Rogers, an All-Pac-12 basketball center for the Huskies in 2012.
Reggie Rogers was arrested earlier this month on a domestic-violence charge after police were called to his home on 15th Avenue South by his wife, who reported that Rogers had hit her.
Rogers pleaded not guilty to the charges at his first appearance in Seattle Municipal Court.