Browse around some of the recruiting websites and you’ll see Tennessee midterm enrollee Jauan Jennings’ position sometimes referred to as “athlete” – meaning he could end up at a variety of positions such as receiver, safety or quarterback.
But spend some time talking with the 6-foot-4, 200-pound Murfreesboro, Tenn., native, and you’ll find that he’s focused on one spot as he prepares to go through his first spring practice in Knoxville.
“I expect to play only quarterback, but all of that is up to me,” Jennings said in his first media availability on Tuesday afternoon. “It’s not up to anyone else, it’s about how bad I want it, and how much I’m willing to work for it.”
And if history is any indication for Jennings, he’ll be willing to work for it. He wouldn’t even be in Knoxville this early, in fact, if not for a tremendous work ethic in the classroom. He decided late in the process to graduate high school early to get a jumpstart on his college career.
Since he hadn’t planned that move out well in advance as some other prospects do, he had a lot of catching up to do.
“I didn’t even know I was going to graduate early and then it popped up,” he said. “I took the first chance at it and I actually had to take 11 classes in a month and a half, so I did it and it’s finally off my shoulders and I’m thankful for the teachers who helped, you know, because I had to take a math that I did not remember none of it, so just teachers that helped me get it done is a blessing.”
Learning the quarterback position has been a work in progress as well. He didn’t get his opportunity on the varsity level until his junior season. There were some growing pains as he figured out the position, but he made huge strides his junior year and then exploded his senior year in 2014, piling up 2,155 passing yards, 22 touchdowns and running for nearly 900 yards and 17 additional touchdowns.
He was always a natural athlete, but learning some of the finer details of the position took work.
“Definitely with my feet, there was a tremendous amount of effort off the field with my coach working on everything I can do mentally and physically,” he said of what he had to work on the most. “It was a huge jump and I’m thankful for that. All the credit goes to my coaches. Without them I wouldn’t be able to do it.”
Now he’ll get a chance to play the position at the highest level of college football with what is already a full and talented quarterback group. Rising junior Joshua Dobbs will return as the presumed starter after coming on strong late in 2014. Rising redshirt junior Nathan Peterman remains on campus and will have a huge edge in experience. And Jennings could be one of as many as three quarterbacks in the 2015 class for the Vols.
But that competition is something Jennings says he thrives on. He knew that it would be a reality anywhere he went to school, and he’s coming in with the mindset that he’s going to see the field. He didn’t commit to when that would be, but he certainly will step on the practice field this spring with the intention of making it as soon as possible.
“It comes from the foundation my parents have set in me: If you’re going to do something, do it to the best of your abilities,” he said. “There’s no reason to come here expecting not to play. I mean, they want players to come in here that expect to play – this is the SEC – great players everywhere.
“You can walk down the hall and you’re going to see a great player, all your teammates are great players, so don’t look down on anybody, but it’s all about work ethic.”
And with the work ethic that Jennings has shown and the multiple ways that the Tennessee Mr. Football winner and Gatorade High School Player of the Year can hurt a defense, it’s hard to count him out from finding a way on the field sooner than later.
“I can use my feet as well as my arm,” Jennings said in describing how he fits in UT’s offense. “I think scrambling out of the pocket – not always looking to run – but also looking to throw can definitely divide a defense way easier, so me being able to run and throw and have quick judgment skills, it goes well with this offense knowing that you’ve got a running back and multiple receivers that can go get the ball.”