Photo from Liberty's Dancing with the Stars watch party in the LaHaye Event Space on Tuesday night.
Story by Liberty University News Service Link to News Service story, including video recap
Former Liberty football player and NFL free agent Rashad Jennings took home the Mirror Ball trophy with partner Emma Slater as the two were declared winners of ABC'S ‘Dancing with the Stars' season 24 on Tuesday night.
Though the finale was taking place thousands of miles away in Los Angeles, more than 400 members of the Lynchburg community, along with Liberty faculty and staff, came out to show their support for the Liberty alumnus during a watch party sponsored by the university in the LaHaye Event Space.
The crowd, dressed in Liberty red, held "Liberty Loves Rashad" signs and cheered when Jennings and Slater took the floor. The live broadcast even cut to a few scenes from the party during the episode.
Members of the Liberty Flames cheerleading team and Flames mascot, Sparky, kept the crowd cheering throughout the night with dance competitions. Liberty provided free drinks and refreshments and gave out t-shirts.
Jennings rushed for 2,095 yards in three seasons with the New York Giants (2014-16) and has totaled 3,722 yards for three NFL teams (Jacksonville: 2009-10, 12; Oakland: 2013; New York Giants: 2014-16) since being selected in the seventh round of the 2009 NFL Draft.
In 2008, Jennings finished his senior year at Liberty by rushing for a program and Big South-record 1,500 yards and 17 touchdowns. He ranked No. 5 nationally in rushing yards per game (136.36), No. 6 in scoring (10.36 points per game) and No. 16 in average all-purpose yards per game (153.64).
Jennings, a two-time Big South Offensive Player of the Year (2007-08), was a consensus first-team All-American and finished eighth in the final voting for the 2008 Walter Payton Award.
During his career with the Flames, Jennings rushed for 3,633 yards, which ranks third best in program history, while setting a then new program and Big South standard with 42 career rushing touchdowns. His 278 career points scored are the most ever by a Liberty student-athlete and the second most by a non-kicking player in conference history.
During Tuesday night's watch party, Liberty University President Jerry Falwell and his wife, Becki, sat alongside Jennings' parents, Albert and Deborah, and the rest of the Jennings family as the DWTS hosts announced the results. The Jennings family is from the Lynchburg area.
The Falwells had just returned from a trip to Miami and came straight from the airport.
"We got back just in time for this," said President Falwell. "It worked out perfectly. This was such a great event. I had a lot of people come up and thank us for having this watch party."
When #TeamShadSquad won, the room erupted.
"We're so proud, everyone is," Deborah Jennings said, while holding a "Shad Squad" sign she made. "You guys deserved it!"
During the finale, clips were shown from Jennings' emotional Week 4 performance which he dedicated to his father. Liberty flew Jennings' parents and a brother and sister-in-law from Lynchburg in a private jet to see his Week 4 performance. Jennings' father, Albert, is a double amputee and due to health issues was unable to fly commercial to LA. President Falwell saw them off, and his wife, Becki, and daughter, Caroline, joined the Jennings family and also attended the live television event and met with Rashad Jennings afterward.
"It was full circle," Becki Falwell said Tuesday night. "It was just great to be with the Jennings family when Rashad started out, in the middle, and then at the end to see him finish strong. They're the sweetest people. We are thrilled. We are so proud of him for representing Liberty, Lynchburg, his hometown."
Though Dayle and Raymond Mayberry of Forest, Va., had to be up early on Wednesday morning, it didn't stop the couple from coming to the watch party. Dayle said the night was especially meaningful because her daughter went to Jefferson Forest High School with Jennings.
"This was so great to be part of this," she said. "This was good for Liberty and Lynchburg to see him win."
College of General Studies Instructor Alison Pettit brought along the youngest Shad Squad fan, her 9-month-old daughter, Emma, who was dressed in a pink tutu and onesie that read, "Rashad and Emma, I hope you win the Mirror Ball Trophy."
Pettit, who also heads Liberty's Habitat for Humanity club, said Jennings raised money through a children's football camp and meet-and-greet for the organization.
"Our whole family are fans of the show," Pettit said. "Watching Rashad on this season has been great to see, especially with his connection to the community and to Liberty."
The show announced that Jennings will be joining many of the show's cast members on the 47-city Dancing with the Stars: Live! – Hot Summer Nights tour, which starts on June 16.
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