Gilman's Darius Jennings keeping busy
Technically, it's the middle of the offseason for Gilman's Darius Jennings. Football season ended four months ago and two-a-days won't begin for another four or so.
But if this is supposed to be a down time for the 5-foot-11, 175-pound quarterback, you couldn't tell it by his schedule.
Jennings is fresh off one of the best seasons in Baltimore high school football history. In his first year as the Greyhounds’ full-time quarterback, Jennings rushed for 2,028 yards and 25 touchdowns, while throwing for 748 yards and 10 scores. He led Gilman to the MIAA A Conference championship and earned Baltimore Sun first-team All-Metro honors for his efforts.
Predictably, Jennings’ standout junior season didn’t go unnoticed. Rivals.com ranks him one of the Top 250 players in the country for the 2011 class, and 24 college programs have already offered him a scholarship. Keeping his grades up, running track and dealing with recruiting has eaten up just about all of Jennings’ free time.
“I wouldn't say it came out of the blue, but [recruiting] picked up quick,” Jennings said. “It gets hectic at times, but it's exciting and it has picked up a lot recently.”
The 24 schools that have offered Jennings are “Oregon, Stanford, Michigan, Ohio State, Penn State, Illinois, Iowa, Rutgers, Pittsburgh, West Virginia, UConn, Maryland, Virginia, Virginia Tech, Wake Forest, North Carolina, N.C. State, South Carolina, Clemson, Ole Miss, Nebraska, Georgia Tech, ECU and Boston College,” he said. It’s early enough in the process, however, for other programs to get involved.
“I've been keeping in contact with a few [other] schools right now, [including] Miami, Cincinnati and Notre Dame,” Jennings said. “I just got the contact info for Cal, so hopefully I can keep in contact with them as well. Cincinnati says that once they've sat down as a coaching staff, they're going to most likely offer me as well. Miami and Notre Dame have to see me in person, which I can understand, just to see what kind of player and person I am.”
Jennings lives in East Baltimore and attended public school before entering Gilman as a second grader -- which should dispel any notion that he was recruited to play football for the Greyhounds. While Jennings is modest about his early experiences with the sport, he can identify the time when he first knew a college football future was possible.
"In rec ball, I was an OK player. I was always pretty fast, but just an OK player,” Jennings said. “Probably in my eighth-grade year, I first realized it. I didn't play too much offense. They had a rule where you couldn't play both sides of the ball. For 1st and 2nd down I would play middle linebacker and then go back to free safety, and then I would return punts. So that was probably when I kind of realized I had some talent."
Before his freshman season, Jennings sat down with Gilman coach Biff Poggi to discuss his options for the year. Poggi offered him a spot on the varsity, but Jennings decided it would be best to start on JV. By the end of the season, Jennings was a varsity regular and started both ways in the Greyhounds’ season finale against McDonogh.
Jennings was all set to start at quarterback as a sophomore, but an offseason injury derailed those plans. He ended up receiving some time under center, but also saw action at running back, wide receiver, cornerback and safety, while also returning kicks and punts for the Greyhounds. Jennings’ utility-man role in 2008 could serve as a template for college coaches looking to utilize his talents.
"Some schools see me as a slot receiver, some as an all-purpose back, some as a corner, some are giving me the opportunity to try offense and defense -- whichever I prefer,” Jennings said. “Some schools say they don't know what they want me as. They'll just wait until I get on campus and see where I fit in best in their game plans. All the schools I've talked to are recruiting me as a return man, and since we somewhat run the Wildcat in high school, a lot of schools are talking about me doing that as well."
Jennings’ first scholarship offer came in early October. Two days after rushing for 275 yards and three touchdowns in a 49-37 loss Good Counsel, Jennings visited College Park for Maryland’s game against Middle Tennessee State. “A week or two later,” the Terps became the first program to offer.
“I wasn't really sure [the Terps would offer first] because Maryland hasn't recruited Gilman too much, so I wasn't sure,” Jennings said. “My coach has close ties to Iowa, so I thought Iowa would come first. But Iowa was a close second, right after Maryland. ... It was a great feeling just to be able to go to college for free. That was always the main goal -- just using football to get a good education and degree.”
Jennings said he won’t rush the recruiting process. Right now "it's too early" to formulate a list of top schools, but he plans to visit several colleges this summer and take all five official visits during his senior season. Until then, he'll continue trying to manage an increasingly busy schedule. There's plenty of stress involved, but Jennings wouldn't have it any other way.
“It's so much attention with how quickly word spreads,” Jennings said. “It kind of came in a rush. I get a ton of mail every day, coaches calling up trying to get in contact with me, and schools I would have never guessed would be interested have been in contact with me. So it's just a great feeling.”
Baltimore Sun photo of Darius Jennings by Kim Hairston / Oct. 17, 2009