SYRACUSE, N.Y. — Amari Rodgers changed out of his white Clemson uniform late Saturday night and into a gray T-shirt, revealing the tattoos running down his arms — words, symbols and designs bearing special meanings, including one quote added this summer.
He flipped over his left arm, showing off the message scrawled on his forearm:
"THE FUTURE BELONGS TO THOSE WHO BELIEVE IN THEIR DREAMS."
Rodgers was tested this offseason. After an encouraging sophomore campaign, he suffered a torn ACL in his right knee March 25. The timeline was discouraging. Rodgers instead decided to believe in himself — to believe in his dreams — and in the Carrier Dome on Saturday, his second week back, Rodgers showed up in a big way.
"I definitely believe in the beauty of my dreams," Rodgers said, referencing the quote widely attributed to former First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt. "It's really what motivated me through my rehab process, just remembering what my dream was, and what I wanted to be."
He wanted to be one of the most respected wide receivers in the nation, and he looked like one in the third quarter Saturday, when he took a screen pass from Lawrence 87 yards to the end zone, stiff-arming one would-be tackler and speeding past several more.
He raised two fingers as he crossed the goal line, channeling Kansas City Chiefs wide receiver Tyreek Hill's "deuces" celebration employed when he leaves defenders behind.
"That's one of my favorite players," Rodgers said. "He's so quick, he's explosive down the field. He catches everything. He's smaller, but he catches everything. That's really what I like to see in my favorite players, is how they catch, because that's one thing I'm hard on myself about."
Rodgers and Hill are both 5-foot-10, a pair of undersized athletes who have found ways to separate themselves as receivers and punt returners. Rodgers, of course, has a ways to go to reach the level of Hill, who has been named to the Pro Bowl each of his three NFL seasons.
Lawrence, for what it's worth, said Rodgers, who will likely need to wear a protective brace around his knee for the rest of the season, looks faster than he did last season, when he was behind Hunter Renfrow on the depth chart.
Renfrow, the 5-foot-10 slot receiver with a knack for making third-down receptions, now plays for the Oakland Raiders.
"For sure, (Rodgers) is similar to Hunter," Lawrence said. "Different in a lot of ways: his strength, his speed and stuff is just ridiculous."
Rodgers' speed was on display Saturday early in the second quarter, when he beat one Syracuse defender, raised his hand high to call for the ball and caught Lawrence's 16-yard touchdown strike in stride.
He finished third on the team in receptions and second in receiving yards, behind junior Tee Higgins (seven catches, 150 yards) and sophomore Justyn Ross (five catches, 64 yards) as Lawrence threw for three touchdowns and a career-high 395 yards.
Rodgers added his latest tattoo about three months after his surgery, he said, around when he had regained much of his muscle strength. It was time to get back in football shape. It was time to grind.
The junior found the quote while scrolling through social media and saved it to the collection of inspirational messages stored in his cell phone's camera roll. He liked it so much he had it scripted on his body, so the motivation to push forward, to defy doctors' expectations and return to the field less than 170 days after the injury, was memorialized on his forearm.
Rodgers often sneaked a peak at the message during his rehab, but he didn't Saturday. He's memorized it by now. Besides, coach Dabo Swinney said, Rodgers has come to embody the ethos he's chased after:
"He's such an inspiration."