Former Liberty Flame, and current Jacksonville Jaguar Rashad Jennings spent the 2011 NFL season on the injured reserve list.  A preseason knee injury assured that the running back would miss the entirety of his third professional season.  It was supposed to be a break out season for Rashad, the back up to 3 time Pro Bowler Maurice Jones-Drew.  It appeared early on that Jennings would be a larger piece of the Jags’ offense, giving their running game a true 1-2 punch.  However, those plans changed quickly with the injury to his knee.  After a season of rehab, Rashad has returned to the Jacksonville line up, and has been thrust into the starting role as of late.  Jennings will start his fifth game of the season this Sunday, against the AFC leading Houston Texans.  We had a chance to catch up with Rashad recently, and talked about life on and off the field in the NFL, in addition to rebounding from a devastating injury.  We, of course, found time to squeeze in a little Liberty football as well.

Jennings will earn his 5th start of the season for the Jags on Sunday

When asked what it felt like going to the injured reserve list last season, Rashad opened up with honesty.  “It was tough, I felt sorry for myself for a bit, but you have to get over it and move forward. Everything happens for a reason, and God is in have to see things in a different light.”  The rehab process coming back from knee injuries like Jennings’ is known to be particularly tough.  Getting back to where the player was prior to injury can be especially frustrating for the athlete.  However, Rashad seems to have taken the opportunity to not only heal his body, but to improve as an athlete and as a person.  “I actually learned a lot during that season.  I watched a lot of film and became mentally better at my craft.  I was healed mentally, emotionally, spiritually, and physically.  It’s all about God’s timing,” Jennings explained.  While bouncing back from injury, the all-time leading rusher for the Flames continued and expanded his work in the community. 

Rashad quickly became known for his charitable work in the Jacksonville community upon signing with the Jaguars, who drafted him back in 2009.  Being new to the region, he wanted to get off to a fast start as a positive influence in the city.  “My rookie year I dedicated my off time to going to outreach programs,” Rashad explained.  During his injury season last year, Jennings found an opportunity to cement his place in the community, and live out the gospel.  “My IR (injured reserve) year I did a school tour to speak to the youth, churches, businesses, and various programs.”  By expanding his presence around Jacksonville while rehabbing from injury, the former Flame was able to have an even greater impact off the field.  When asked about his service work, Rashad added,  “For me, football was a platform to help the community and further the kingdom.

Clearly, Jennings’ faith has a tremendous impact on how he lives his life on, and off the field.  During our interview, he further explained how his faith in Christ impacts his choices.  “In 1 Timothy 6:12 it says fight the good fight of the faith,'” he added “I try to stay humble and watch how God operates on and off the field.”  Such an outlook on life may seem rare in a professional athlete of this era. However, Jennings is quick to point out the moments that help keep him grounded, and impact him during his work in the community.  “Every time a child walks up to me and asks to tell him/her more about God it definitely hits home.  When someone asks me for my autograph I usually ask for theirs back.  I love seeing the kids smile and being motivated.”

Rashad has bounced back from a season ending injury in 2011

During our interview, we also got a chance to talk about one of the hottest topics in all of sport today, the problem of head injuries, and the long term affects of concussions on professional athletes.  When asked his thoughts about the violence of the NFL and head injuries, Rashad maintained his level headed outlook.  “We should always be concerned about our health in any job.”  He continued, “There will always be tragedy in any occupation.  You just need to make sure your body is healthy and you eat right, train right, and prepare for it every week.”  In reference to new research being done by the NFL, as well as new rules to protect players, Jennings commented “I do appreciate the league wanting to protect the players more, especially with head injuries.” 

So how is day to day life different for Jennings, as an NFL player today?  “Most of my time is focused on football.  Majority of the day is keeping my body healthy and preparing for the next game.”  Certainly Rashad is working hard to prove himself deserving of a larger role in the Jags offense, and is getting that opportunity under new Head Coach Mike Mularkey.  When asked about life under a new coach and system, Rashad replied, “You always have to prove yourself no matter if you are new or a veteran.  You need to always put your best foot forward, because this is a very competitive game, and this is our living.”  On game days, Jennings mentioned that he tries to take his mind off of football until kickoff.  So when asked what sort of music he listens to pre-game, it may not be shocking that he replied, “I usually listen to mellow music, or even comedy.”  

The former Liberty RB is still a fan of the Flames

While life in the NFL keeps Rashad busy, he does still keep up with his alma mater.  While Jennings starred under former Liberty Head Coach Danny Rocco, Rashad made clear that he still very much supports the Flames under new Head Coach Turner Gill.  “I haven’t really talked to him (Turner Gill), but I am definitely supporting the team and his efforts.”  Of course, keeping up with Liberty is made easier by the fact that Jennings has former Flames’ Quarterback Mike Brown as a teammate on the Jacksonville Jaguars.  “It’s great to have him in the locker room.  We always throw up the LU sign when we make plays during practice.”  The former Liberty, and now Jaguars teammates have enjoyed being reunited, and Rashad has been able to help mentor Brown in his rookie season.  “He lived with me for a bit, and I definitely tried to help him with the politics of the league and everything else that comes with it,” Jennings explained.  Rashad still speaks fondly of his days at Liberty. When asked what his pitch would be to a young recruit about his alma mater, he replied “Liberty is diverse, it has a solid foundation, great education, and it helps you grow in more aspects than just football…And…because I went there (laughing).” 

As Jennings continues to earn his opportunities on the field, he manages to stay grounded in his beliefs.  By being a valuable player on the field, as well as a leader in the community for Christ, he gives fans of the Liberty Flames and Jacksonville Jaguars something to cheer about every day of the week, not just on Sunday afternoons.