While he may refer to himself as a country boy from Forest, Virginia, there's so much more to Rashad Jennings. And as a result, the personable and highly talented running back out of Liberty University is going to be among the top running backs selected April when NFL teams add new talent to their rosters during NFL Draft weekend.
The Vikings were among four teams that met with Jennings at the Senior, and he had another four formal interviews at the NFL Scouting Combine a month later.
The 6-foot-2, 235-pound rusher has amazing speed and quickness for his size. And he's a complete back who can catch balls out of the backfield or hold his own while blocking to defend his quarterback. Jenning's got a package of skills and attributes that draws comparisons to one of last year's rookie sensations, Bears running back Matt Forte.
"It's an advantage to have size and quickness," Jennings told Scout.com during an exclusive interview. "I've always been a bigger guy, I've always been able to shock people, even on the basketball court while just playing around. When people would see my size, they would just assume that I wasn't going to be a speed guy, or a guy who could make people miss on the open field.
"That's a big part of my game, being explosive, being able to make the long runs in addition to the short, necessary ones. I pride myself in being a complete back who can stay on the field on third-down-and-long to pick up the blitzer or to catch a pass out of the backfield."
Photo: Liberty University Athletics
Jennings began his collegiate football career at the University of Pittsburgh in 2005, starting as a true freshman in the season-opener for the Panthers. He finished the season as the second-leading rusher with 411 yards and with a bright future ahead of him. But when his father faced serious complications from his battle with diabetes, Jennings decided to transfer to a school closer to home to provide support and care along with the rest of his family. Although Liberty was just a short drive from his family's home, his decision to take the chance of moving to a lesser known football program was influenced by more than proximity.
"I looked at Liberty, James Madison and the University of Virginia because all these schools were kind of close," Jennings explained. "At that time, Liberty's coach, Coach Karcher, was using the spread offense and they were trying to throw as much as possible. So at first, I was looking at UVA and JMU.
"But then I talked to Coach Rocco, the assistant head coach at UVA, and he told me about how he was going to be leaving to be the new head coach at Liberty. He and I talked for three hours. He let me know his vision for the program and I let him know about my passion for the game—and we just clicked."
Jennings made the adjustment to Liberty's playbook and offensive scheme quickly, but that wouldn't have surprised anyone who knew him since he had an ongoing passion for introducing new experiences into his life. While pursuing a double-major in Sports Management and Business, Jennings used what little spare time he had available to learn a wide variety of skills that would challenge him in different ways.
"I had decided that every semester in college I was going to pick up something new. My first semester, I picked up the piano. I tried to learn how to play it, but I really didn't get it," he said. "The next semester, I decided to learn every card trick there is to know. Then I picked up the guitar and found that I love acoustic guitar. The following semester I decided to try to learn to write with my left hand.
"I just picked up something different, simple stuff that every semester I would do just for fun. I'm one of those guys who just loves life."
Jennings quickly became a leader at Liberty because of his on-the-field commitment and his personal demeanor. He was a team captain all three seasons, increasing his offensive output annually from better than 1,000 yards rushing his sophomore season to 1,500 yards last year. During that senior campaign, Jennings scored a total of 19 touchdowns, averaged 5.7 yards per carry and caught 24 passes for 190 yards. His consistency and well-rounded skill set earned him an invitation to play in the Senior Bowl, validating his stature as one of the nation's top running backs.
"It was a great opportunity to not only showcase your talent, but to be able to prove that you can play against that competition." Jennings said. "I learned a lot from the coaches, especially Coach K.P. (Kennedy Pola), the running backs coach for the Jaguars. For example, we were just running a route against the linebackers and he pulled me aside because I didn't get as much separation as I wanted. He showed me a technique to use the next time I ran that route. We ran it again, I ran down the field, got wide open and caught the ball and scored. It was a great experience to learn from top-notch pro coaches."
Photo: Liberty University Athletics
One of Jennings' brothers, Butch, is a youth pastor who also played running back in college. His other brother, Brian, was a tight end and long-snapper for the San Francisco 49ers. Both have had a profound influence on him as well.
"They're the two hardest coaches I've ever had in my life. That's why I love them," he said. "They've been preparing me mentally for this next stage, what to expect, what not to expect. They've been a tremendous help."
While the duo has been essential to his success, Jennings ultimately draws his strength and focus from his personal faith as he continues to work each day to realize his NFL dream.
"I'm no fool. I understand that God gave me this talent for a reason and that's what keeps me humble about any kind of achievements I've ever made," he said. "It's nothing that I'm doing, it's what he instilled in me, the passion he gave to me to play this sport and turn around and glorify him. It's definitely a huge factor in who I am today."
Jennings believes that he's been able to stay focused throughout the hectic pace of his collegiate career due to a unique perspective that allows him to look at life a bit differently than most people. And it's that perspective, along with his natural talent and work ethic, that will help him be successful as he sorts through a wide variety of new challenges that are inherent to a professional football career.
"It's sort of like when I take a ride in a plane and I look down at the earth. >From up there it makes me wonder why life is so difficult and has so much chaos, because when you look at it from above it looks so simple, like it should be so easy," he said. " I believe part of the reason for that is because you're looking at it from a higher point.
"From that perspective, you can take yourself out of all of the chaos. You can answer the questions of what you need to do and what you don't need to do to get to your destination and achieve your dreams. But if you're looking at it from a low point, it's very hard to see through all the junk and sometimes you get off track. Having God in my life really keeps me on track."
Click here to go to Rashad Jenning's player profile page at Scout.com.
A member of the Pro Football Writers of America, Ed Thompson's player interviews and NFL features are published across the Scout.com network and at FOXSports.com. You can follow him on Twitter for NFL updates and insights. And you can contact him by email through this link.