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Destiny brought Jennings home


Rashad Jennings' deep faith and Christian upbringing might suggest that going back home to Lynchburg, Va., and Liberty University was his destiny.

Jennings, the Jaguars' seventh-round running back who set mini-camp on its ear, was a high school football star at Lynchburg Christian Academy. All LCA graduates are guaranteed free tuition to Liberty, which seemed to make Jennings a natural to play football at Liberty, except for one problem.

"He told me I'd never be good enough to play running back," Jennings said of the head coach at Liberty when Jennings was coming out of high school.

That snub sent Jennings to Pitt as a gray-shirt recruit, and in his freshman season Jennings established himself as Pitt's feature running back. His future at Pitt looked bright, but that's when events in his life began to steer him back home and to Liberty, which had a new coach, Danny Rocco, the son of a well-known high school football coaching family in the Pittsburgh area.

Jennings' father was about to lose a leg to diabetes and his sense of family called him home. Rocco, no doubt, got a sterling scouting report on Jennings from Pitt coach Dave Wannstedt.

"I felt I needed to transfer because of my father's illness. We had a heart to heart and he understood where I was coming from. He wished me well," Jennings said of his conversation with Wannstedt, who released Jennings from his commitment, which allowed Jennings to transfer to Liberty without losing any eligibility. Three consecutive 1,000-yard rushing seasons would follow.

A year later Pitt had a replacement for Jennings. LeSean McCoy gained the yards Jennings was supposed to have gained and McCoy was picked in the second round of this year's draft by the Philadelphia Eagles.

"I talked to a bunch of guys I was with my freshman year and I got that question: What if I had stayed at Pitt? If LeSean McCoy had gone to Liberty would he have been drafted in the second round? Probably not," Jennings said.

McCoy was a player for whom Jaguars General Manager Gene Smith had a particular fondness. Is it another one of those twists of fate that Smith drafted the player McCoy replaced?

"It boggles my mind. I'm just in shock. It's a dream. It's an honor even to be drafted," Jennings said of the events of the last two weeks, which have seen him go from a largely unknown running back at Liberty to a mini-camp star in the camp of the NFL Jaguars.

"I've been dreaming about football since I was six. The game is just so fun," Jennings said.

Two older brothers have spent time in the league and they provided a point of reference for their younger brother. Rashad said he remembers his brothers talking about doing what's necessary to stay in the league, then Jaguars running backs coach Kennedy Pola dropped the same line on Jennings and the young backs in mini-camp last weekend.

"It's not about getting here, it's about staying here. That's the exact same thing my brothers said," Jennings said.

He's a big, powerful, fast back. He had the tools to be a starter in a major college program as a freshman, and the skills to be a star on a I-AA level. What about in the NFL?

"The gap is in your mind," he said. "I think my chances are very good. I just have to work hard and gain the respect of my coaches."

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