Rashad Jennings' long, strange NFL journey

Many NFL fans know running back Rashad Jennings as the likely candidate to start behind Eli Manning this upcoming season, but not many know that the sixth year pro was a former high school fifth-stringer who made an unlikely jump to professional football.

Rashad Jennings’ journey to the top of the New York Giants’ depth chart didn’t happen overnight. In fact the 29-year-old running back didn’t even fit the mold of an athlete during his childhood years, but an intense desire to achieve greatness was burning deep inside him all along.

"I've never stopped growing," the New York Giants' running back told reporters after practice last week. "I had to, because when I was a little, short, fat, overweight kid, dorky with glasses, I had to figure something out. It's a blessing not to be the most talented guy when you roll out of bed, not to be the fastest guy. It keeps that chip on your shoulder."

With the Giants’ David Wilson sidelined after suffering a burner in his surgically repaired neck this week during practice, Jennings will likely headline a crowded Giants’ backfield this preseason. Last season, Oakland Raiders star tailback Darren McFadden was plagued by injuries and Jennings filled in valiantly amassing 733 yards on 163 carries including six touchdowns while starting in eight games. A former seventh round pick in the 2009 NFL draft, Jennings is a player who has earned every snap, not based on draft status or reputation, but through hard work and dedication.

“The NFL is all about the next man up mentality,” noted New York’s veteran running back. “I believe if you ask any team, any position, and any player at any depth they’ll attest to that.”

Jennings’ old school work ethic dates back to his high school playing days at Liberty Christian Academy in Virginia where he was relegated to bench duties. One fateful night changed the course of the young man’s life forever.

”In high school I rode the bench my whole high school career. I was the fifth string running back. There was a Tennessee scout that came to watch our starting tailback. The starting tailback got injured, the second string got injured, the third string got injured. They put in a wide receiver at running back instead of putting me in there. He ended up getting hurt. The first string came back for a little bit, he got hurt again and they finally put me in. Long story short, in high school, this is high school, bare with me, this was my junior year, I had 14 plays, scored four touchdowns, two on offense and two on defense. The scout asked after the game, ‘Rashad, I came to see the starting running back but I couldn’t help but to notice you.’ It goes back to all of that dedication and hard work that all of us, all of the players, put in during practice when nobody’s watching, the way we eat, the way we sleep, all of that’s preparation. When that opportunity comes, it’s too late to decide to go work hard."

A testament to his fortitude and commitment, Jennings is relishing the opportunity to be a key cog in the Giants’ revamped offense, but the sixth year pro refuses to forget the unlikely journey that brought him into the limelight and he remains motivated to prove the naysayers wrong once again.

“That was a big turning point in my life too,” offered Jennings of his encounter with the Tennessee scout. “I rode the bench up until that game. It just so happen to be the right time, the right opportunity, I kept approaching the game the way I should and it ended up working out in my favor.”

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