Click to listen to Player Spotlight hosted by Bo Nostra.
We wrote a piece earlier in the week about players like you, and the Rhett Bomar’s out there, that have transferred from bigger schools to smaller schools for whatever reason. In your case, you wanted to be closer to your father, who was suffering from diabetes. Do you think this preparation process would have been easier had you stayed at Pittsburgh?
Jennings: You know, there’s controversy there and it can always be a factor. I’m glad I went ahead and came back home. If I would have stayed in Pittsburgh, because of the media and being seen on Saturdays and on TV I would have been more visible. Being able to play against different competition every Saturday, I would have been able to showcase my talent a little bit more. But I was blessed with the opportunity to go to the Senior Bowl and be the leading rusher there. Just going out and showing that I could play at that level and making people aware that I started out at that level helped my case. But everybody has to take their own route. I’m excited about this opportunity. I’m blessed. If I could go back, I wouldn’t do it any differently.
Let's discuss your Senior Bowl performance, where you were the leading rusher and really opened some eyes. From each step along the way, from the Senior Bowl, to the Combine, to your Pro Day and individual team workouts—has there been one step that has been more nerve-racking than the others?
Jennings: Nah, not at all. I had two older brothers. I was blessed that they both played football and both played in the NFL a little bit. They have been just passing down knowledge and everything, helping with what I’ve been going through. They've even helped with all the workouts and the questions, and advising me on how to answer stuff and to just be myself. I’ve played this through my head I don’t know how many times and it’s finally happened. So I’ve been here, I’m just trying to catch up to myself.
You're 6’1 and about 231 and have the size to play linebacker or safety. Were you a running back all the way, or were there thoughts of playing another position? Because I saw where you were once around 260.
Jennings: I always played tailback. I played linebacker also. Inside and outside linebacker. Coming out of high school I looked at a lot of different positions on offense and defense. So I’ve always had those questions like, “Have you ever played linebacker?” And of course you think about it when you’re asked the question, but my heart is at running back and that’s what I am.
Is there any part of your game you didn’t get to showcase in college? Any part of your game that the scouts and media haven’t picked up on?
Jennings: I’d just tell them I’m an every down, complete back. I’m durable. Everything I want to showcase, I’ve shown before. It’s just that when I get on a team, that team won’t be disappointed at all because I’m a hard worker, I understand the game like a coach does, and I want it. And that’s what makes a difference—some people want it, and some people just have the gifts.
How about stats and being able to check your stats in the paper? Were you eying the guys from Stony Brook like running back Edwin Gowins and Conti Cuttino? Did you want to be the leading rusher in the Big South?
Jennings: My goal was not to be the leading rusher. My goal was otherwise, but by the same token, of course, you compete to be the best in everything you do. But I didn’t go out there every single game thinking I wanted to be the leading rusher. I’d go out there and think I got to get these four ugly yards before I break the big one. It’s not something I think, that I've got to get a 100 plus every game. I’m trying to take it play by play.
If we hid you under an NFL helmet and jersey, who would you remind us of the most?
Jennings: It depends. You see a lot of different guys. A lot people say they see Eddie George because of the big upright running. Some people say Jamal Lewis. Some people say Steven Jackson. Some people say...hey, everybody says something different. And they are big backs. Everybody that everybody names is a complete back, so I’m not disappointed.
Did you pattern your game after a Steven Jackson, Jamal Lewis or Eddie George?
Jennings: Nah. Growing up I used to watch Eddie George a lot and I liked him a lot. I don’t try to mimic my game after anybody else's because then I wouldn’t be myself. I just know the characteristics of the other backs and I have those characteristics as well.
You mentioned your brothers earlier, Butch and Brian. I read that prior to going to Pitt you weighed close to 260. Was it you or your brothers that came up with the idea of slimming down?
Jennings: It was nobody but myself. I understood that I wasn’t going to cut it at 265, so I woke up and starting running. Sometimes you gotta do what you gotta do and I understand that. My body needed a change if I wanted to continue my career playing tailback. So that’s what I did. It wasn’t anybody saying, “You need to do this or you need to do that”. My brothers never even pushed me hard to play football because they didn’t want me to have to follow in their footsteps. It’s something I wanted and something I worked for. And now I’m down here in Florida training and I’m going to train down here until the 24th then fly back home, watch the Draft, and then get back to training. This is something I’m going for. Nobody can push me harder than myself. There’s nothing anyone can say to me that I haven’t said or thought to myself. I lost my weight because it’s just something I thought I needed to do.
Now in terms of your training, you said you’re going to train till the 24th. The next day, the 25th, is the Draft. What are your plans for Draft day, a day that’s going to be so special for you?
Jennings: Just being with my family because they have seen me come from birth. They understand what I went through. Just like every other player, nobody understands what they went through unless they were really close to them. So those are the people I’m going to be around. My family who has been with me through this whole transition. And when my name is called, I’m going to cry like a little baby and be excited. Then I'm going to get ready to start a career.
When did the reality of playing professional football sink in?
Jennings: I’ve always believed in myself. People gain confidence off your confidence and people believe off your beliefs. And I believed I could play in the NFL my freshman year at Pittsburgh. Being there with the coaching staff, Coach Wannstedt, offensive coordinator Matt Cavanaugh...I used to go into his office as a true freshman. He had just come to Pittsburgh from the Baltimore Ravens so I would ask him about Jamal Lewis all the time. He'd say, “Rashad, you're going to be okay, don’t worry about it. You just keep that attitude and work hard and you will be fine”. Hearing that from him as a true freshman, I always knew I could play. I just had to learn. I’m constantly learning. Being down here with some of the veterans training down here in Florida, I’ve been learning a lot every single day. I’ve asked them many questions. I asked them to drill me. I understand their training and I'm trying to get into shape too. But at the same time, if they see something that will help me in the future, off the field or on the field, I asked them to let me know. I’m eager to learn. I have a drive for this. It’s not something that somebody told me, it’s something I want.
You said veterans. Who are some of the guys you’re training with?
Jennings: I’m down here right now with Maurice Jones-Drew, Frank Gore, Fred Taylor, Chad Johnson, Thomas Jones and Rudi Johnson.
Seeing those guys up close and their skills, are you ever thinking to yourself, “These guys are over the top good”. Or do you kind of pat yourself on the back and say, “Yeah, I have got what it takes. I’m comparable with these guys”.
Jennings: They're phenomenal players and being able to get out there and train with them, learning from them and hearing them tell me. “Thanks for pushing me, young buck”. That’s what they call me, young buck. (laughs) So just hearing them tell me that I’m pushing them while at the same time, I’m looking at them saying, “You are pushing me” because of who they are. It feels good to know that these are guys you can come talk to. They push you and you can push them. Talent-wise it’s a reminder that football is football. It doesn’t matter where you come from; if you can play football then you can play football. Doesn’t matter what logo you have on your helmet. I know people look at that a lot but that’s just part of it and I understand that.
Playing for the Liberty Flames and being the so-called big man on campus, was it hard to just walk around there, or did your fellow students leave you at peace?
Jennings: No not at all. Liberty was a great campus. Everybody knew why I played football. I want to use this as a ministry and when I say “ministry”, people are like, “Oh, man.” But it’s not spiritual. People are fearful of things they don’t understand and if you get spiritual on somebody and they don’t understand, it pushes them away from you. And I’m not a spiritual person anyways, I’m a realist. But I understand why I’m here and that’s why I want to use football as a platform. With that being said, the students, the whole campus is behind me and it’s not a distraction at all.
Looking at your game as a whole and the teams you have talked with, is there anywhere you think you might be headed to?
Jennings: There’s been quite a few teams that have been showing a lot of interest. It’s like a chess game. I've just got to watch and see what happens and how it plays out. Nobody is really going to know until they hear their name called.
Growing up, was there anyone you rooted for?
Jennings: I just loved watching the game.
Me too. I love football. It’s a great game to watch at all levels. From the pros to Pop Warner. Even the little kids are fun.
Jennings: Yeah, they are hilarious. (laughs) My little nephews, I've got six nephews, and they are always playing and I always get out there for a chance to catch them play. It’s funny to think that was me not too long ago. I always tell them that. Like, “Don’t look at me like I’m far-fetched. I was just like you a couple days ago”.
OK, we're looking to wrap things up with some Quick Slants. Would you rather be a lead singer of a boy band or a male runway model.
Jennings: (laughs) Boy band.
Can you sing?
Jennings: No, but I can play guitar.
What do you play?
Jennings: I’m acoustic. I love John Mayer. I’ve got all his albums and like his sound. There’s a lot of people.
Would you hold a live tarantula?
Jennings: No. I wouldn’t do that.
Which competition would you go further in—Dancing With the Stars or American Idol?
Jennings: Dancing With the Stars.
Photo Credit: Liberty Athletics – Photo Archives
Saturday, April 18, 2009
Click to listen to Player Spotlight hosted by Bo Nostra.