When the clock reads 00:00 tomorrow
(Pictured above) Turner and Cole Rotenberry playing for the South Panola Tigers in the 2015 season and their 2019 roster photos at Mississippi College
Batesville twins play last game Saturday
By Jeremy Weldon
When the scoreboard clock runs out and the final horn sounds tomorrow afternoon at Robinson-Hale Stadium on the campus of Mississippi College in Clinton, the improbable and thrilling football careers of two of South Panola’s finest football products will be over.
Cole and Turner Rotenberry, the twin brothers from Batesville, will play their last football game Saturday when their Mississippi Choctaws team takes on the visiting Statesmen of Delta State University.
Neither will be drafted by an NFL team and the Delta State game will use up the last bit of college eligibility the brothers have. They will graduate next semester and pursue new paths in life, but the reality that tomorrow’s game will end sometime around 4:30 p.m. has weighed on the brothers for a few weeks now.
“This has been a real emotional week for us, it really has,” Cole said this week in a telephone interview. “Me and Turner have been playing together a long time and I know it’s going to be hard when it’s all over. I try not to think about it, but I know it’s coming.”
Had they listened to the experts, their football careers would have ended long ago, or perhaps never got started.
They were always “too small” for high-powered 6A high school football, but they were four-year starters for the Tigers. Same thing for college hopes, too small, but they played junior college ball at Northwest Mississippi Community College, and then defied the odds again, moving on to Mississippi College, where they had a final stellar two years of playing.
“It’s going to be sad when it’s over, but me and Cole can always say we played the best we could,” Turner said. “We’ve spent our whole lives playing football, but all good things come to an end. I’m just excited to see what plan God has for me now.”
The plan, they hope, will include football. “Since we were little boys we have dreamed about one day coaching with each other, or really, coaching against each other,” Turner said. “We would love to go to different schools and make a rivalry against each other, him coaching one team and me the other.”
High schools needing football coaches could do no better than the Rotenberrys. The brothers have a deep appreciation for the game, and understand that their coaches at all levels helped form them into the people they have become.
“I know that football helped me get an education. We just wanted to play football more than anything else, and to play football in college you have to keep up with your studies,” Cole said. “We studied so we could play football, and football is going to get us our college degrees. We want to help other kids get the same opportunity we had.”
The Rotenberry’s are old-school tough. Neither missed a single game in their eight years they played high school and college ball.
“We’ve played injured, but we love the sport,” Cole said. “Daddy and mama always said you’re not hurt unless a bone is sticking out so we just kept pushing on no matter what.”
Lance Pogue, their high school coach at South Panola, said he was shocked the Rotenberry’s are at the end of their careers. “Wow, it just doesn’t seem real that they are about to play their final game. I love those boys like they are my own, and I am so proud of what they’ve accomplished. Just to be associated with them is an honor for me.”
“The thing is, those boys have always been told about their limitations and because of that their motivation was never ending,” Pogue said. “They’ve just pushed and pushed and made an impact at every level.”
“We went to Starkville their junior year and we were kind of flying under the radar. They were ranked No. 2 in the nation, obviously No. 1 in the state, and Cole ran a punt back for a touchdown with six minutes left and that just stole the game from them. Then he caught a halfback pass from Darrell Henderson and we won it. Turner had a big interception that game, too. They always played big, every game,” Pogue said.
Pogue said he’s convinced the boys (they will turn 21 in May) could have played at the Division I level. “Those D-1 guys measure players with a measuring tape and their time in the forty, they don’t measure heart. There’s not a tape big enough to measure their heart, and they played every football game that way.”
Are there any regrets from the brothers? Not many.
“Sure, we would have liked to get a shot at Division 1 football, but the Lord had a plan all along for us and we just always believed we should trust Him,” Turner said. “Daddy told us long time ago that no matter where we were to keep our heads up and if we were good enough somebody would see it.”
“Me and Cole have always been competitive whether it was who killed the biggest buck or whatever, but playing with him all these years has been the best thing in my life,” Turner said. “I don’t want it to end, but we know it will.”
And when the horn does sound tomorrow, win or lose, and the brothers walk off the field for the last time, tears will be shed and hearts will be heavy, but not for long.
“No, sir, we won’t be sad too long,” Cole said. “We are just wanting to see what God has for us next. And we hope it’s more football.”