The 6-foot-4, 200-pounder passed for 2,155 yards and 22 touchdowns as a senior at Murfreesboro’s Blackman High last fall, earning recognition as the state’s Mr. Football Back of the Year for Class AAA. He is so gifted athletically, however, that many observers believe the consensus four-star recruit will wind up playing another position at the collegiate level.
Scout, for instance, rates him the No. 19 safety in the Class of 2015. Jennings begs to differ.
“I expect to play only quarterback,” he said last week. “All of that is up to me. It’s not up to anyone else. It’s about how bad do I want it and how hard am I willing to work for it?”
Apparently, he is willing to work pretty hard for it. He made huge strides as a passer from his junior year to his senior year of high school.
“It was a tremendous amount of effort with my coach off the field – working on everything I can do to get better mechanically, mentally and in the weight room physically,” he said. “It was a huge jump, and I’m thankful for that. All the credit goes to my coaches. Without them I wouldn’t be able to do it.”
Despite just two years’ experience as a quarterback, Jennings is convinced it is his natural position.
“I would like to say it is,” he said. “It’s something I always wanted to do but I didn’t get the opportunity to play varsity quarterback until my junior year. I got the shot, did good with it, then my senior year I did an excellent job, and now I’m here.”
Although he distinguished himself as a safety in high school, Jennings said he really hasn’t played that position a whole lot.
“I played about 20 percent of the plays,” he recalled. “They only played me when they needed me. I only got to play toward the end of the season, during the playoffs, like when we were down to Independence 42-14. I never really played safety.”
Even so, he figures the few snaps he played as a defensive back gave him a perspective on the passing game that helps him as a quarterback.
“Definitely … understanding the mindset of a defense,” he said. “You can sort of calm yourself down at quarterback. You can see both views, and it makes it easier to be more decisive with the ball in going through your progressions and reads.”
Jennings is eager for spring practice, noting that he wants to improve his footwork and develop timing with Tennessee’s talented receivers. He expects to continue the progress as a QB that began in high school, noting that diligence is his greatest strength.
“Definitely I work hard, I never give up,” he said. “I always try to find ways to get better.”
Like a lot of talented athletes, Jennings starred in both football and basketball growing up. One of his hoops influences was Lang Wiseman, a three-year starter for the Basketball Vols from 1990-93.
“That’s my eighth-grade coach, and I actually won a championship with him,” Jennings recalled. “He was a great coach. He taught me a lot about building character in myself. That was in middle school when I lived in Memphis.”
Playing basketball helped develop Jennings’ quickness and agility, skills that should serve him well in a Tennessee zone-read offense that operates best with a mobile quarterback.
“I can use my feet, as well as my arm,” he told InsideTennessee. “Scrambling out of the pocket – not always looking to run but looking to throw – can definitely divide a defense. Being able to run and throw, and also having clear judgment skills, goes well with this offense, knowing you’ve got running backs and multiple receivers that can go get the ball.”
Jennings began studying Tennessee’s playbook shortly after enrolling. He plans to make the most of his first spring practice, even though enrolling early was a spur-of-the-moment decision.
“I didn’t even know I was going to graduate early (from Blackman), then it popped up and I took the chance,” he recalled. “I actually had to take 11 classes in a month and a half. I did it, and it’s finally off my shoulders. I’m thankful for the teachers who helped.”
Passing 11 classes in six weeks is a taxing assignment, one that left Jennings a bit exhausted.
“Yes,” he conceded, “and then I got here, so I’m rebooted.”