Howard W. Blake High School hasn't always been known for football. It's a magnet high school nestled on the west bank of the Hillsborough River in Tampa, Fla., and is regarded mostly for its emphasis on the arts.
That emphasis is part of what drew Isaiah Rodgers to Blake. The other part?
"They're not really a football school, which is why I went there," Rodgers said. "I wanted to find a way to change it."
Rodgers created a legacy while during his time at Blake, lettering three times in football and twice in track. On the football team, he did everything — "pretty much had a stat in every category," Rodgers said. The guy who's speed made him a blur on Friday nights was even Blake's punter his junior and senior years.
"It can roll but it won't go as high in the sky," Rodgers smiled. "… It ain't got much time in the air but it's gonna get down there."
On Friday, Rodgers was honored by his prep alma mater, which retired his jersey and named its stadium's press box after him.
The kid in the yellow and black No. 9 jersey was electric during his high school career. His senior year highlights are full of the same things he did with the Colts as a rookie in 2020 — the speed, explosiveness, shiftiness and ball skills that've made him a valuable special teamer and cornerback in the NFL.
But Rodgers' time at Blake was about more than football. He had an interest in journalism and put together the school's yearbook his junior and senior years. He got into photography, too, and learned how to work a camera — a skill he still dabbles in from time to time. Rodgers grew up at Blake and is forever grateful for the experience he had there.
"They taught me how to be a man early, how to be a football player, how to just go about a lot of things," Rodgers said.
Rodgers' impact on Blake didn't end when he graduated and went north to play his college ball at the University of Massachusetts, and then started his pro career in Indianapolis. He returned to Blake over the summer to talk with the football team — but wanted to make sure he didn't do all of the talking.
"I wasn't that guy who went and just spoke to them," Rodgers said. "I said, you guys can ask me whatever you want — on the field, off the field, because I didn't have that growing up when I was at Blake. So I knew how it felt, people coming and just talking, talking, talking and you don't have time to ask questions. So I literally just sat for over an hour and a half just letting kids on the football team ask me any type of question."
One question Rodgers got was from a football player: "How did I make it out of Blake?"
That stuck with Rodgers, who emphasized the work starts in the classroom and shared his own experience with that lesson. But he also felt that student was going through a lot and has made sure to keep up with him after that day.
"I'm definitely going to check in when I go back to see how that exact kid is doing," Rodgers said. "I followed him on Instagram, reached out to him, make sure he's doing good, he's playing on Friday."
From a football standpoint, Rodgers emphasized the importance of special teams to the Blake team. Rodgers averaged 28.8 yards per return and housed a kick against the Cleveland Browns last year, earning himself a spot on the 2020 NFL All-Rookie Team as a returner. Rodgers also chipped in on the Colts' punt return team and played a handful of snaps in kickoff and punt coverage, too.
The lesson: "what ever coach wants me to do, I'll do it," Rodgers said.
Rodgers arrived in Tampa on Friday, with the Colts having Labor Day weekend off before prep begins ahead of Sept. 12's season opener against the Seattle Seahawks. Plenty of friends and family were in attendance, and the whole night meant a lot to Rodgers, who hadn't been able to make it to a Blake football game since he graduated.
And now, whenever a Blake player asks why No. 9 is off limits, they'll know: That was Isaiah Rodgers' number, and he made a tremendous impact on the school — which made a tremendous impact on him.
"I met a lot of great people there — coaches, teachers, people I still stay in touch with now," Rodgers said. "I think they made me exactly who I am today."