When the Jacksonville Jaguars selected running back Rashad Jennings in the final round of the draft this past April, they were thrilled to land a quality player at a point in the draft when most of the options are long shots to make a roster.
What they did not realize is that they had drafted a player who was not only a special talent, but a true renaissance man.
The path Jennings took to get to this point in his football career is not the traditional road map most players follow.
It is part of what makes Jennings the quality individual he is.
Coming out of high school, the running back had a few offers to play college football. He chose the Pitt Panthers because he felt it was a good fit for his style of play, and because there was a fifth year senior starting he felt he could learn from.
Not only did Jennings learn from the veteran player, but he replaced him as a true freshman. In eight games, Jennings managed to generate more than 400 yards rushing, which was good enough for second on the Panthers' roster.
To even the casual observer, it would have been readily apparent that his arrow was pointing upward. So, it came as somewhat of a surprise when he decided to transfer to Liberty College after his freshman season.
For those who knew Jennings, it was hardly a surprise. In fact, it was what they expected.
In a recent interview with Jaguars Radio's color analyst, Jeff Lageman, Jennings offered some insight into the type of man he is, giving people a unique view of what makes him tick.
During his freshman season, his father suffered serious health issues that became a distraction for the player. As a long-time diabetic, Jennings' father was forced to have a leg amputated as a result of the ravages of his disease.
Jennings made the decision that his family came first, and without hesitation requested a transfer.
Liberty College was a small Christian school only a few minutes from his family home. They offered the curriculum he was interested in, and allowed him to continue his football career with some hope that he could take his game to the next level eventually.
Most important, it allowed him to be there to support his family.
He pursued a double-major in Sports Management and Business Administration with a minor in Biblical Education.
He also established himself as one of the best running backs in the country at Liberty, earning honors as a finalist for the Walter Payton Award, as an All-America first-team selection by NFL Draft Report, earned an All-Big South Conference first-team pick, and was named as the Offensive Player of the Year in the conference.
He was ranked fifth in the nation with his 1,500 yards rushing on 263 carries and 17 touchdowns. He averaged more than 136 yards per game on the ground in 11 games.
Because Jennings does not smoke, drink, or party, he had to find creative ways to entertain himself during his college days.
He and a group of classmates at Liberty decided to take up different hobbies each semester, attempting to master the skills as quickly as possible. He tried the piano, writing left-handed, and even card tricks.
When he decided to take up the guitar in his senior season, he fell in love.
He continued to develop new skills playing the guitar, writing songs, and having fun jamming with his friends.
When he reported to rookie camp, he was not given much information about what he should bring along. Unsure of what he needed to bring precisely, he decided to wing it. He packed underwear, socks, shirts, pants, shorts, his computer, and his guitar.
With all of the time requirements surrounding playing football and obtaining a degree, Jennings still found enough time to start writing a book with his brothers.
The working title, The "If" in Life, centers on the decisions people make in their lives as they follow their path. Some of the decisions are the right ones, and others are not.
He and his brothers also started a ministry at their church to put into practice what they had learned while putting the book together.
For this rookie, he is making all of the right moves both on and off the field.
He is a diverse, interesting guy.
He is a pretty good football player, too!
When Jennings arrived for rookie mini-camp after the draft, he immediately went about the business of getting himself acclimated to the NFL, and it was an impressive first-time effort.
Jennings showed that he can be the complete back, showing good instinct in carrying the football, allowing lanes to clear and following his blocks. He also showed outstanding hands as a receiver coming out of the backfield.
His performance was impressive enough that he has gone from a possible special team contributor to a player who could wind up getting up to 15 touches per game, splitting duties with Maurice Jones-Drew.
He could quickly become a fan favorite if he can prove to be productive on the field. He is a guy who exemplifies what the new era of Jaguars football is about under Gene Smith.
In a town where fans love to root for their blue collar, family oriented players, the community will be eager to embrace Jennings. He is a great story for a franchise looking for stars.
As a seventh round pick, he comes to Jacksonville as an underdog worth rooting for.
For the Jaguars, he is the big if.
If he can step right into his role as the primary backup for Maurice Jones-Drew, he will be able to establish himself as one of the best seventh round draft picks in franchise history.
If he can take advantage of this opportunity and become a productive outlet for the Jaguars, he will help this team turn things around quickly.
As the Jaguars continue the process of rebuilding this roster, he is one of the players who could become the foundation for a new wave of success for the team.
He is the "if" in life, moving forward for the Jaguars.
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