April 15, 2016 : By Drew Menard
Former Flames standout and current NFL running back Rashad Jennings (’09) will return to his alma mater on Saturday, May 14, to deliver the keynote address at Liberty University’s 43rd Commencement Ceremony in Lynchburg, Va. The event begins at 10 a.m. inside Williams Stadium.
Just seven years ago, Jennings celebrated his own graduation shortly after being drafted into the National Football League by the Jacksonville Jaguars. Today, he is the starting running back for the New York Giants, in addition to being a philanthropist, inspirational speaker, and writer.
President Jerry Falwell told the Liberty Champion, the university’s student-run newspaper, that Jennings was chosen “not only because of his success in the NFL, but also his tireless efforts to help children in the Lynchburg area develop their reading skills through his foundation.”
“Rashad Jennings is a Liberty University living legend,” Falwell continued. “He has seen more success in the NFL than any other Liberty football player in recent years, and he exhibits the Christian values that we pray all Liberty graduates will embrace through his service to others. Having successful alumni like Rashad Jennings and Shannon Bream as our keynote speakers at Commencement is a sign that Liberty is maturing as a university and producing the type of graduates envisioned by our founders.”
Falwell noted that Liberty has hosted many prominent Commencement speakers in recent years, including politicians, entertainers, and business leaders. In 2012, Chick-fil-A founder Truett Cathy appeared at Commencement as a surprise guest when Gov. Mitt Romney was the keynote speaker. Falwell said he would “not rule out the possibility” that a surprise guest will also appear this year.
The stage from which Jennings will be speaking will be positioned just behind one of the end zones where he celebrated a number of his 42 touchdowns over three seasons with Liberty.
Jennings, a native of the Lynchburg area, graduated high school from Liberty Christian Academy and transferred to Liberty after one season at the University of Pittsburgh to help care for his ailing father. It was during his tenure as a Flame that Liberty began a tradition of football excellence. The year before Jennings came to Liberty, the football team was 1-10. In his three years at Liberty the Flames won their first two Big South Conference Championships and had a combined BSC record of 11-2. Jennings rushed for 1,000-plus yards each of his three seasons at Liberty, finishing with 3,633 yards, 42 touchdowns, and averaging 5.7 yards per carry. Jennings holds numerous rushing records, including most rushing yards and touchdowns in a single season and most 100-yard games (consecutive, single-season, and career).
In the NFL, Jennings is preparing to enter his sixth season. He played two years in Jacksonville followed by a year in Oakland before joining the Giants in 2014. He has rushed for 3,179 yards and scored 20 touchdowns over the course of his career, including 863 yards and 3 touchdowns last season.
Throughout his career, Jennings has been focused on giving back. His nonprofit, the Rashad Jennings Foundation, provides mentoring and promotes literacy, health, and wellness to youth. He visited the Lynchburg area in March to encourage local students to read. In 2015, over 20,000 students from 25 schools across the nation participated in Jennings’ reading challenge, collectively reading 167,655 books.