When the Giants brought in Rashad Jennings as a free agent signing this offseason, he was supposed to be part of a trio of running backs. With David Wilson and Andre Williams in tow, nobody foresaw Jennings carrying the ball 34 times in one game.
That’s exactly what happened in Sunday’s 30-17 win over Houston when the Giants watched Jennings rush for a career-high 176 yards. The veteran back is seeing more of the ball this season because of the David Wilson neck injury and Andre Williams’ struggles in the passing game, but the main reason Jennings ran the ball so often on Sunday was effectiveness. He averaged 5.2 yards per carry, scored a touchdown, and helped open up a passing game that featured zero interceptions for the first time in 2014.
Jennings told reporters after the game that his father is a big source of motivation for him.
“Today I was just reminded, my father has diabetes and he ended up getting both of his legs amputated,” said Jennings, “He doesn’t have legs so I remembered that I do have them so I played that way. You’ve got to find a different motivation outside this game to push you.”
Jennings’ father Albert was once a football player himself, but he turned down a scholarship to Nebraska in order to enlist in the Air Force and make money for his family. Albert’s hard work allowed Jennings to grow up dreaming of playing in the NFL, but at one point that didn’t look like a possibility.
“I was a little overweight, chubby kid that had nothing to look up to,” said Jennings, “I had a 0.6 GPA average, I had to overcome a lot in my life, I did a complete 180, I started taking responsibility…”
“I was 270 [pounds] in high school riding the bench saying, ‘I want to play in the NFL.’ I had to make a commitment in my life to change that around and it’s unique because I get to sit back and look and where I’m at today was because of some small decisions and it’s humbling.”
Jennings originally went to play football at the University of Pittsburgh, but he transferred to be closer to home at Liberty University when his father had his first leg amputated. The sacrifice paid off when Jennings was chosen in the seventh round of the 2009 draft by Jacksonville, and now at age 29 he’s finally a starting NFL running back with the Giants.
His life experiences have made Jennings a humble performer who knows that a good team is better than the sum of its parts. He wasn’t one to take full credit for his incredible performance against Houston.
“I thought the line did an outstanding job of getting hat on hat,” said Jennings, “Eli did a tremendous job making sure that we were in the right play at the same time. Receivers made key blocks down the field to give me one-on-one opportunities and to be honest, I was just doing my job.”
If Jennings can continue to run the ball like he did on Sunday, the Giants’ offense will end up surprising a lot of people this season.