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In the FCS Huddle: Understanding the pain at Sandy Hook

So many areas have reached out to the community of Newtown, Conn., in the last three weeks that what Chris Rogers encountered over his holiday break was not out of the ordinary.

In fact, when the Sam Houston State starting center visited his old high school, he stepped into the gymnasium and saw a group of people -- including his brother-in-law, a teacher there -- making posters and goody bags to send to the devastated community of Sandy Hook Elementary School.

Rogers' high school, though, is no ordinary high school.

He is a 2009 graduate of Columbine High School in Littleton, Col.

It was at Columbine on April 20, 1999 that two masked gunmen shot and killed 12 students and one teacher, and injured another 21 students, in a massacre that few could have fathomed, or later believed would happen again.

It only got worse on Dec. 14 at Sandy Hook, where a gunman's rampage took the lives of 20 first-graders and six educators to leave our nation heartbroken.

For Rogers, who was in second grade at the time of the Columbine killings, the Sandy Hook tragedy hit home in a particularly hard way.

"I understand the pain that they went through, I understand where they're at," said the hulking senior at Friday's final NCAA press conference before the title game.

"It's sad to see that, it's sad to feel what they're feeling. I feel for them that way we felt for our brothers and sisters and family all throughout the area. But it can either impact you in a negative way or it can impact you in a positive way. What happened happened, you can't get nothing back. I'm sure they will come together and pull together. That's best thing that we had done as a community; we're as tight-knit of a community as they come.

"I was in second grade, we were about two miles down the road at the elementary school. All I remember is my teacher locked the door. Really, the big difference for me was we usually walked home and mom came to pick us up that day."

The name "Columbine" stirs the emotions unlike few other schools, something Rogers has learned since leaving a high school in which he was a four-year letterman and a three-time all-conference offensive lineman, and helped lead a Colorado state championship season.

The 5-foot-11, 270-pounder went on to attend Iowa Central Community College, where he starred as well for two seasons, but saw the dumbfounded reactions of others when he told them about his background.

After his second straight season as an All-Iowa Conference selection, he sent out game film to various schools and basically recruited Sam Houston State as much as the other way around. He eventually gained a scholarship offer from coach Willie Fritz and his staff in the summer of 2011.

Rogers played guard as a reserve, with three starts, on last season's FCS national runner-up squad. This season, he's back as a season-long starter with the Bearkats in the NCAA Division I Football Championship Game, seeking redemption on Saturday against defending champion North Dakota State.

Rogers and his teammates will spend all of their energy to try to give Sam Houston State its first FCS national title.

But Rogers will be the Bearkat who walks onto the FC Dallas Stadium turf with a firmer perspective on reality and the priorities in life.

"I live 200 yards from the (Columbine) school and I never would feel safer living anywhere else in the world," he said. "It's as beautiful of an area as you can live. A couple people can ruin a lot for a lot of people.

"We always say, 'We are Columbine.' And that is what I hope, that (Newtown residents) one day become what we are."