Apr 28, 2009

Jennings Express: next stop Jacksonville

by Axel Cerny

Head Coach Danny Rocco said he thinks Rashad Jennings has the ability to become “an every down player and a starter in the NFL,” and after the weekend’s draft, step one of that process has been achieved.

Liberty’s running back for the past three years had to wait a little longer than most had predicted, though, eventually getting selected in the seventh round by the Jacksonville Jaguars as the 250th pick. Being drafted in the seventh round doesn’t bother Jennings one bit, despite being projected as a possible third rounder.

“People look at what round players get drafted in and like to make a big deal about it, but for me, I see it as an honor to get drafted, and I’m just excited and thrilled to take this next step,” Jennings said. “It’s been an emotional ride now for the last couple days and weeks, but it (has) come to an end, and now there’s a great new beginning.”

As the first player from Liberty to be taken in the NFL draft in nearly two decades, Coach Rocco made it clear that Jennings had done everything to prepare himself since the day he came to Liberty.

“He has built his maturity, character and leadership up to a high level over the last three years,” Rocco said. “He was a perfect fit to the program. When I came in here, I wanted to run the ball with power and authority.” Jennings did just that in his three years as part of the Flames.

As the fourth player ever in Big South Conference (BSC) history to be drafted into the NFL, Jennings has the credentials to back it up. Just last season, he led Liberty football to the best record in school history, 10-2, along with the BSC title.
He couldn’t seem to be knocked off his feet in his senior campaign, rushing for 1,500 yards and 17 touchdowns, both BSC and Liberty records for a single year. He ranked fifth in the nation in rushing yards per game (136.36), sixth in the country in scoring (10.36 points per game) and 16th in all-purpose yards per game (153.64).

Some may have doubted he could be drafted coming out of a small Division I-AA conference, but the drafting of the 6’1”, 235-pound running back made a statement on Sunday, one that undoubtedly speaks volumes for Jennings as a player, but also lends more respect to the Liberty Flames’ football program.
Jennings had only positive things to say about his experience at Liberty.


“From the coaching staff to the facilities, to the coaches and fans, it’s been a great place,” he said.

Coach Rocco said he noticed Jennings’ potential from the first day he stepped on the field in the spring before his sophomore year. As a former assistant for the New York Jets, Rocco has seen what it takes to compete at the next level, and noted, “to his credit and ours, he has developed.”

The coach remembered when Jennings came to the Flames, “he was somewhere around 250 (pounds) and was mainly looking to run people over, but we cut him down to 230 to increase his breakaway speed and watched him make his most improvement in the area of blocking.”

Apparently, all that instruction paid off as Jennings finished his three-year career at Liberty with 3,633 yards, which ranks second best in program history, and 42 career rushing touchdowns, which set a new record for the Flames and the BSC.

Jennings is extremely pleased to be headed to Jacksonville, and has already gotten to know a few players and coaches there. It may not be a coincidence that the head coach who drafted him, Jack Del Rio, also coached him in the 2009 Under Armour Senior Bowl, where he watched Jennings rack up the most yards on the ground for his team. Jennings also has a strong relationship with starting Jaguars running back Maurice Jones-Drew, who Jennings roomed with while training at the Perfect Competition training center in south Florida.

The future looks bright for Jennings, but he’s made it clear he will not be forgetting where he came from and what he stands for. Here at Liberty, he is certain to have the same 15,000 standing for him each weekend when he steps onto the field, even though he’s replaced the eagle on his helmet with a jaguar.

 


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