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NFL players return to their alma mater, reach out to the community

February 22, 2014 : By Ted Allen/Liberty University News Service

Rashad Jennings and Mike Brown speak at College For A Weekend rally.

Mike Brown (left) and Rashad Jennings speak at a College For A Weekend event on Friday.

Two of the most productive offensive players in Flames Football history — current NFL running back Rashad Jennings (’09) of the Oakland Raiders and wide receiver Mike Brown (’12) of the Jacksonville Jaguars — spent College For A Weekend on their old stomping grounds at Liberty University.

Jennings appeared at Liberty’s Convocation on Friday morning for a Q-and-A with Senior Vice President for Communications Johnnie Moore. Jennings talked about his time at Liberty, life on the West Coast, and keys to his spiritual and career success. He was joined by Brown on Friday night’s Players Panel on the Club Pavilion Level of Williams Stadium, fielding questions from fans and current players and staff.

“We’re really excited both of these guys came back to show they are actively involved in the community,” said Kristie Beitz, Liberty’s senior associate athletics director for academic affairs who moderated the panel discussion, which was followed by a dessert social. “Both these young men are Liberty legends and men of Christ.”

“It’s always good to come back,” Brown added. “Everybody’s always so welcoming. That was the reason why I even came here in the first place. It just felt like home.”

Rashad Jennings clowns with kids at Skills Camp at Williams Stadium.
Rashad Jennings smiles with two participants of the Punt, Pass & Pancake Breakfast at Williams Stadium.

Jennings and Brown returned to Williams on Saturday to help put on a Punt, Pass, and Pancake Breakfast before directing a Skills & Drills Minicamp for approximately 30 elementary and middle school players on the same turf where they enjoyed prolific rushing and passing careers. They were assisted by current Flames Football team members.

“The guys did an absolutely amazing job under the direction of Rashad and Mike to get out here, to pay it forward, to give back to the community,” Beitz said.

“It was a ton of fun, a lot of energy,” Brown added. “The guys that helped us out with the camp kept everything energized and organized. I think the kids had a good time, we had a good time. Hopefully we helped them be a little better and we taught them something.”

All of the money raised at the weekend events will be donated toward a Habitat for Humanity house in Lynchburg, which several Liberty student-athletes will help build.

The two Central Virginia natives and former teammates (at both Liberty and Jacksonville) have reunited to form R&M Endeavors, which will engage the communities of Lynchburg, Charlottesville (Brown’s birthplace) and their current NFL employers of Oakland, Calif., and Jacksonville, Fla., through community service projects and football camps.

“We’re moving ourselves out of the way to see what God — and God’s people who want to see good in society — can contribute to it,” Jennings said.

Brown said the football camps will be the focus of future R&M Endeavors, especially in summer outreaches, but he and Jennings are only in the planning stages of impacting their hometowns and adopted cities for Christ.

Mike Brown coaches kids at the Skills and Drills Mini-Camp at Williams Stadium.
Mike Brown (center) and members of the Flames Football team encourage kids at the Skills & Drills Minicamp.

“We’ll be doing a bunch of random acts of kindness just throughout the community, starting up little groups, camps, and other events, and raising money for different charities,” Brown said. “That’s part of our mission as Christians. That’s what we believe in; that’s what we stand for. We share a lot of the same beliefs so we stand firm on them.”

Beitz said the two recent graduates are setting an excellent example for the current Flames to follow.

“Even after they leave, they’re still a part of this Liberty family,” she said. “They’re showing players you can come here, do the right things, get an education, grow academically, athletically, socially, and spiritually. Then, if they have the opportunity, go play professionally, but always be humble and remember your roots and where you came from.”

Jennings was raised in nearby Forest, Va., graduated from Lynchburg Christian Academy, and majored in sports management with a minor in business at Liberty. He was named Co-Offensive Player of the Year and Team MVP in his first season with the Oakland Raiders. Currently a free agent, he bolstered his résumé by rushing for a career-best 733 yards and six touchdowns and made 36 receptions for 292 yards.

In four seasons with the Jacksonville Jaguars, Jennings rushed for 944 yards and scored seven touchdowns. At Liberty, he rushed for a program-record 42 touchdowns and racked up 3,633 career rushing yards (third most in program history) in three seasons (2006-08).

Jennings credits his education at Liberty, including the academic guidance from Beitz and motivation of his teammates and coaches like Ed Gomes, the Flames’ director of spiritual development, for helping him to tune out distractions and stay focused on his goals.

“One of the things that Liberty prepared me for in the NFL was really humility and hard work,” Jennings said. “Having naysayers, having the outside world downplaying you, it’s always put a chip on my shoulder. But no matter what you do in life, the cool thing is to learn how to channel that chip and use it to motivate you. I appreciate Liberty for that.”

Jennings will be featured on Monday night's episode of "Game On," produced by the Liberty Flames Sports Network (LFSN).

Brown, who spent 15 weeks on Jacksonville's practice squad before playing in the final two games of 2012, fractured two vertebrae in his back while making his first catch in Week 1 of the 2013 season. He returned in Week 6 and played in 11 games, starting six, and finished the year ranked third on the team in receiving yards (446) and fourth in receptions (32), including two for touchdowns. He was interviewed by LFSN’s Alan York in January.

At Liberty, Brown helped the Flames win Big South Conference titles in 2008, 2009, and 2010. After playing receiver as a freshman, he was a three-year starting quarterback, throwing for 2,664 yards and 18 touchdowns as well as rushing for 437 yards and nine touchdowns as a senior in 2011. Brown finished his career with 6,072 passing yards, 45 passing touchdowns, 1,875 rushing yards, 29 rushing touchdowns and ranked second in school history with 7,947 total offensive yards. 

He encouraged current and future Flames to follow their dreams with a passion and to let God turn them into reality.

“For every person that tells you you can do something, there will be 50 people telling you that you can’t,” Brown said. “They’ll put limitations on you and tell you you’re not smart enough, not tall enough, not fast enough, whatever it may be. Always continue to chase your dreams, and don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t.”

Johnnie Moore interviews Rashad Jennings at Liberty's Convocation.

Liberty University Senior Vice President for Communications Johnnie Moore (left) interviews Rashad Jennings during Friday morning's Convocation in the Vines Center.