todd rogers


lthough he is renowned for his intelligence on the volleyball court, Todd Rogers, ’96, seemed rather clueless early in his athletic career at UC Santa Barbara. When he played in hostile gyms, fans would heckle him by saying, “How’s your neighborhood?”

“I had no idea what they meant,” Rogers said.

It’s true. He had never heard of “Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood,” even though Todd and his brother Dean grew up when the PBS show was a staple for kids. “Our boys didn’t watch television,” said their mother, Heidi. “They’ve always been good readers.”

That bookish identity has stuck to Todd Rogers. A Religious Studies major, he maintains a neatly trimmed mustache and goatee, just what you’d expect of a beach volleyball player who is called “The Professor.” He is a wiry 6’2” tall and plays with a precision that meshes beautifully with the power of his 6’9” partner Phil Dalhausser, known as “The Thin Beast.” Together for five years, they have won 65 professional beach titles, including the gold medal at the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing.

Rogers and Dalhausser will be striving to win a second Olympic title in London this summer. It’s something no men’s beach team has done before. They started out the 2012 international tour with a bang. They won the season opener, the Brasilia Open, and followed it by sweeping to another title at the Shanghai Grand Slam. Rogers’ share of the prize money pushed his career winnings past $2 million. Much of that was earned on the domestic AVP Tour, which went out of business in 2010. Rogers, 38, hopes it will be revived under new ownership before he retires from the sport.

Germany’s Julius Brink described the Rogers-Dalhausser tandem as “a perfect fit. Todd is so experienced, definitely the smartest player on the tour. Put him with the best blocker, and it’s an almost unbeatable team.”

Brink and his partner Jonas Reckermann, ranked third in the world, rented a Santa Barbara apartment in March so they could practice with Rogers and Dalhausser at East Beach. Rogers, who lives in Solvang with his wife and two children, was grateful that he could stay close to home while sharpening his competitive edge against the Germans.

UCSB has the distinction of producing two Olympic champions in beach volleyball. Eric Fonoimoana (’92) of Manhattan Beach won the gold at Sydney in 2000 with Dain Blanton. Rogers, a Santa Barbara native, followed in Fonoimoana’s footsteps as the Gauchos’ captain. He set a school record for digs (783) in 1993-96, and he later spent five more years in the program as Ken Preston’s assistant coach.

Rogers won his first pro tournament in 1998 with Dax Holdren. Meanwhile, the rules of the sport were modified in a way that enhanced the impact of big blockers. Rogers made the smartest move of his career in 2006 when he initiated a partnership with Dalhausser, a raw prospect who had played for a club team at the University of Central Florida.

The 2012 Olympic tournament will begin July 28 on a parade ground near Buckingham Palace. Several teams, including the sizzling Brazilian combo of Alison Cerutti and Emanuel Rego, will be trying to knock the reigning champs off the podium. “It’ll be tough,” Rogers said after a workout at East Beach. “I’m four years older. I had knee surgery in August. It’s a matter of staying healthy.”

With that, Mr. Rogers stowed a bag of volleyballs in his car and began the drive home to Solvang. The trip would consume less than a gallon of gas. “The Professor” was, of course, driving a Smart car.