Respectful and Reliable

The Miami Hurricanes return all four starters in the defensive secondary. Maurice Sikes, Sean Taylor, Antrel Rolle and Kelly Jennings were key components in a defense that led the nation in passing defense (119.7 ypg) a year ago. All four are on the Jim Thorpe Award preseason watch list, which goes to the nation's top defensive back.

Sikes, the lone senior of the foursome has the most experience of these shut-you-down, in-your-face defensive backs. Taylor is an athletic hard-hitting safety with a rare combination of size and speed. Rolle is extremely fast and one of the best cover cornerbacks in the country. Jennings is often referred to as, "that guy that played with a cast." Well ‘that guy' is a very good cornerback in his own right.

Kelly Jennings is a 6-0, 170-pound redshirt-sophomore cornerback from Suwanee High School in Live Oak, Florida. This very polite respectable young man enters the 2003 season fully healed from a torn thumb ligament which he had surgery on last August. Jennings played virtually all of the season last year with a cast on his left hand as a starting cornerback. He recorded 25 tackles, broke up six passes and had one interception in 2002.

Even though Jennings was the starter for the majority of the season last year, he started fall practice on the second team. Alfonso Marshall started ahead of Jennings for the Fiesta Bowl thus he began fall practice on the first team. The battle for the starting spot opposite of Antrel Rolle has been a closely watched battle, but Jennings sees it differently.

"Alfonso is a great guy and a real good player. I look at more like both of us are trying to get better. Coaches will decide who they want to put in the starting spot. I see it could go either way. He's good and I feel I'm good so whatever the coaches decide I'm happy."

He worked hard this off-season to regain his strength in his arm.

"Summer workouts went good, we worked hard on our conditioning. I think I got a lot of my strength back that I lost when I had a cast on my hand. I feel like I'm getting better, trying to get better."

The cast often held back Jennings throughout the season, but it was hard to tell.

"That was a big hindrance for me. As the season went on and I wasn't able to lift I got a little weaker. As the season went on, I kind of digressed a little bit."

The hand injury is in the past for Jennings and he is beginning to regain his technique.

"When I first came back with my cast off I was still playing like I only had one hand. But now I feel I'm starting to use my hand again and I'm getting my technique back. It's a big difference, technique wise, I was using my feet but only using one hand. But now everything is starting to come back to me. My technique is better and it's a lot easier to cover guys."

Jennings was promoted to the first-unit after the scrimmage on August 13, but didn't make any spectacular plays during the scrimmage.

"I just did my responsibilities and did what they asked me to do."

Defensive Backs Coach Mark Stoops is very pleased with Kelly Jennings this fall.

"He's just doing a good job. He's getting to that point where he was playing like he did before he was injured a year ago. He's very conscientious. He tries to do what you teach him. He's reliable. He gives 100 percent effort on every play. He's really doing a good job and starting to make some plays."

Is Kelly Jennings ready for the season to start? You better believe it.

"I'm ready for it, going through these two-a-days is tough. You get tired of beating up on each other."

Kelly is not the only one ready for the season to start. His parents, Roy and Ruby, have season tickets and will make the trip down to Miami from Live Oak for the home games. He is very close to his two older brothers and older sister who live in northern Florida.

"Growing up, its like I had three daddies and two mommies. They always watched over me. My brothers still call me and ask me if I need anything."

Living just 80 miles from Tallahassee, Jennings grew up a Seminole fan. Florida State did not offer him a scholarship and their loss has definitely been Miami's gain. His experience at Miami has been very enjoyable and looks forward to another run at a national championship.

Jennings has lived with defensive end Thomas Carroll since he's been at the university. He spends a lot of time hanging out with Carroll, Tanard Davis, Tony Tella and Antrel Rolle. Like most college football players they enjoy playing Playstation2, preferably NCAA Football 2004.

"I like to play video games. I consider myself to be the man with the guys I play with. The only person that I can say that beats me every now and again is Tanard (Davis)"

As a cornerback, it's okay to get beat every now and again. But don't expect Kelly Jennings to get beat too often this year on the football field.

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