Playing Hard, Doing Good

Aqua Equity co-founders Ryan Morgan ‘08 (BBA), Brandon Espy ‘10 (BA) and J.T. Rogan ‘08 (BBA).

ALUMNI FOREVER CONNECTED BY FOOTBALL, FRIENDSHIP AND FIDELITY

There’s really no earthly reason why J.T. Rogan ’08 (BBA) and Ryan Morgan ’08 (BBA) should be such good friends, especially when considering how they first met.

Back in the summer of 2005, Rogan was an unheralded and undersized running back looking to earn playing time in then-USD Football Head Coach Jim Harbaugh’s high-powered Torero offense. Across the line of scrimmage was Morgan, a chiseled rock of a defensive end whom Harbaugh had recruited as a junior college transfer.

Harbaugh’s summer practices are now the stuff of USD legend; intense and physically demanding daily battles where respect was earned through effort, toughness and tenacity. Rogan and Morgan would routinely run into each other — often quite violently — during team scrimmages, and Morgan couldn’t help but be impressed by his younger and smaller teammate’s dogged determination.

“Originally, I thought, ‘Oh, man, this dude’s about to get … like he’s a class clown about to get beat up out here,’” recalls Morgan, laughing at the memory.

“He wore the crossbar facemask. He had these hip pads that nobody should wear, the extra big ones like wings. But he would just keep coming at you, play after play, practice after practice. He not only earned my respect, but the whole team’s respect. Our smallest running back became one of our toughest, most durable players.”

Rogan’s hard-nosed practice approach also caught the eye of his coaches, and ultimately translated into a spot as the team’s starting running back. He literally ran with the opportunity, becoming a four-year starter and one of the program’s most accomplished athletes. He currently holds team records in rushing yards (3,559), touchdowns (39) and rushing attempts (709), and is ranked in the top-10 all-time in myriad other offensive categories.

Not too shabby for a guy who wasn’t even sure he’d crack the starting lineup, let alone the record book.

“You have to go in with the mentality that everyone has to earn their spot, and our coaches really emphasized that in practice,” Rogan says. “From a football standpoint, I knew I had to provide max effort in everything I did. There may have been guys who were bigger and stronger, but success is the great equalizer in our sport, and at the end of the day, if you can successfully execute at your position, that’s what matters most.”

In the roughly 16 years since they first met on the football field, both Rogan and Morgan have parlayed their on-field accomplishments into considerable success in their respective professions. Rogan has been a sports broadcaster for Fox Sports and the PAC-12 Network, and currently works in the software development industry. Morgan has built an impressive sales and managerial resume in the beverage industry, accounting for more than $34 million in sales around the world. He attributes his success in part to the lessons he learned on the field and in the classroom at USD.

“I would say that I had a tough upbringing, and some of the mistakes I made growing up were ones that helped show me that I need to find a different path.” Morgan says. “When I came to USD, I was in my mid-20s, and I knew the opportunities I could create for myself and my future would come from the work I did as a student and an athlete. I worked hard to get to where I was, and I knew that hard work, along with the relationships that I would develop, would get me where I needed to go.”

As student-athletes, both Morgan and Rogan were committed to maximizing their potential. As engaged, socially minded citizens, they are also committed to helping others maximize theirs. To that end, they — along with fellow former Torero teammate Brandon Espy ’10 (BA) — co-founded the Aqua Equity Water Co., a nonprofit organization that creates locally sourced mountain spring water and mineral-enriched, electrolyte-enhanced water products.

Their company mantra, “drink good … do good” is more than just a catchphrase; it encapsulates their efforts to create a premium product that directly serves the community it comes from — in this particular case, South Central Los Angeles’ Watts neighborhood. A portion of the sale of each Aqua Equity product is channeled to a range of Watts community improvement, empowerment and entrepreneurship programs. The long-term goal is to create a self-sufficient water bottling plant within the community, so that the entire process of product development is sourced by, and benefits directly, the Watts community and its citizens.

“When Ryan came to me with this idea, I loved it, and couldn’t wait to support it however I could,” says Espy, who manages the company’s marketing and communications area. “To be a part of something that means so much to the community, and something that does good for everyone who buys it … it’s a win-win across the board.” — Mike Sauer

 

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