West Virginia's Steady Sophomore-To-Be Primed For Breakout Season

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. - When Gary Jennings injured his wrist late last season, his immediate reaction was to take the long view. Turns out, his perspective was spot on.

Jennings entered the offseason as an unknown, a wideout which hadn't truly made a mark while catching just seven passes last year as a freshman. He excelled in the Cactus Bowl, beating a safety for a 64-yard touchdown - but so did every other wideout which played against a sub par Arizona State secondary. The question for Jennings was where he fit into a pass catching corp that included a season vet in Daikiel Shorts, a pair of deep threats with Shelton Gibson and Jovon Durante and a physical specimen like Ka'Raun White.

Jennings has the burst and size - he's 6-2 and a svelte 195 pounds - to be a contributor in the vertical game, and the hands and agility to fit into the mid-range passing plans as well. And now, his wrist injury recovery has further expanded his skillset.

"Everything happens for a reason," said Jennings, who started spring drills in a no contact jersey. "I got to work on a bunch of one-handed skills and it did actually help me focus on using many other skills. It'll help me in the long run."

It seems to already be aiding him now. Jennings looked explosive in the Gold-Blue spring game, catching four passes for 92 yards, including a game-long 69-yarder against corner Nana Kyeremeh. 

"He came out pretty strong, and I'm just happy that he is healthy," Kyeremeh said. "He can definitely help us in the future. He’s fast, but he uses his body. He knows how to use his body, so he can make a play. He is strong and he lets his hands do the most of the work. He can definitely out run us, but if I made that play, then I wouldn’t have to worry about chasing him."

Jennings secured the slant pass and turned upfield, turning on the speed to gradually pull away from Kyeremeh and give Skyler Howard his third score over the first 15 minutes of play.

"I think he is a tough kid because he played three games with a broken wrist, including the bowl game," head coach Dana Holgorsen said, while revealing perhaps the main reason Jennings was in the green jersey to start the spring session. "He had to heal. He didn’t use it for three weeks, and then he was cleared. The first day he was cleared, he threw his shoulder out. That set him back for another couple days. The last five practices, he started to emerge as a guy that we are going to be able to count on."

During the healing process, Jennings worked on one-handed catches within the punt return game, and honed other minute minutiae of the trade. It's led to a more precise player in terms of routes, ball security and understanding the capabilities of his body.

"It's something you go through and it's something you approach mentally," Jennings said. "If you think that you're not hurt (it helps) and that's how I go about it. The first few catches it hurts a bit, but when you're in the game with the adrenaline flowing, it's better. It can be a little sore at times. But as far as everything goes, it was something you had to deal with, so it's fine.

"I learned to focus on the little things," he added. "Coming out of routes and being able to focus in being a wide receiver. At the high school level I never really got to focus on doing just that. It was a lot different. I feel that I've gotten more accustomed to the speed of the game, and I feel like I've raised the level of my play."

There's little question about the latter. Once the strength fully returns in a wrist that may or may not have a pin in it - Holgorsen said Jennings had one inserted, Jennings himself said he had not - it bodes well for the wideout, especially considering among the biggest of jumps at the collegiate level is between the freshman and sophomore seasons.

"We've jelled together pretty well," Jennings said of the receivers. "I like the direction we are going and I can't wait for this upcoming season."


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