Gilman's Jennings to play for Virginia

The Sun's Offensive Player of the Year expected to begin college career as slot receiver

February 02, 2011|By Katherine Dunn, The Baltimore Sun

Gilman quarterback Darius Jennings looked completely relaxed as he stepped up to the podium Wednesday morning to announce where he will play college football.

The hottest football prospect in the Baltimore area's 2011 class grinned and said, "I've decided to stay another year, play for Gilman, be a fifth-year senior."

Once the laughter died down, Jennings tapped out his own fanfare on the dais and then pulled out a dark blue baseball cap with a big white V sitting atop crossed orange swords.

"I'm going to the University of Virginia," he said, and tucked a long Cavaliers flag into his shirt collar.

Jennings, The Baltimore Sun's Offensive Player of the Year and an Under Armour All-American, is expected to play slot receiver at Virginia, which he chose over Wake Forest and Ohio State. At 9:48 a.m. on the opening day of the football signing period, he signed his national letter of intent surrounded by his parents, brother, teammates and coaches in a classroom at Gilman's Redmond C.S. Finney Athletic Center.

With that signature, Gilman's all-time leading rusher ended what he called "a long and strenuous process" that began with more than 30 offers. He all but finalized his choice Monday night after meeting with Greyhounds coach Biff Poggi, talking to his family and praying on it.

"It came down to Virginia and Wake Forest," Jennings said. "I just talked it over with my parents and my little brother. All three of them said Virginia, so I guess that was the final answer."

How did it feel to make that decision?

"Oh my gosh, it's lovely. I knew I was stressed out, but I really didn't realize how stressed I actually was until I broke everything down and told my parents and then called the coaches. It was just a big weight released off my shoulders. I went to school refreshed the next morning, Tuesday, did all my homework."

Jennings took his time making a decision that he based as much on academics as athletics. He warned in August that it might take until Signing Day to narrow those 30 scholarship offers down to one. At one point, Maryland, Penn State, UCLA, Virginia Tech, Pittsburgh, Boston College and Connecticut were also in the running.

"I feel as though I can achieve more [at Virginia]," he said. "I can be more than just a football player there. I can achieve all my other goals in order to help carry me through life. … If I did play 10 years in the NFL, I'd still be 34, 35, so I need something to fall back on. I believe UVa. can definitely help me carry on not for the next four or five years, but for the next 40."

Virginia's academic excellence, its proximity to home and especially a strong rapport with the Cavaliers coaching staff, he said, put the Charlottesville school over the top. While he had cheerleaders for all three finalists — Gilman assistant coach Stan White, who played at Ohio State; teammate Hunter Goodwin, who signed Wednesday with Wake Forest; and Boys' Latin lineman Marco Jones, who signed with Virginia — Jennings said they didn't play much into the decision.

"I focused on what I needed to focus on and just pick the best fit for me," he said.

Jennings said Jones had been text-messaging him "nonstop" for five days, so he sent Jones a text just before making his announcement.

"I started jumping for joy right in the middle of class," Jones said. "He gives us more attention, and it makes us stronger as a group to know that we're capable of getting players like him. I think everybody is very excited now."

The Cavaliers finished 4-8 last season under new coach Mike London, and Jennings sees an opportunity to be in on the start of something big at the Atlantic Coast Conference school.

"I feel as though at Virginia, they are an up-and-coming program. Coach London is a great coach. He's turned things around. He had like a Top 25 recruiting class. Just with me coming in and the rest of the guys coming in, I feel that we can start something new and build upon that."

The Maryland Gatorade Player of the Year, Jennings was the quarterback for the No. 2 Greyhounds, who relied heavily on the ground game and used him as their primary ball carrier. In his Gilman career, he ran for 4,338 yards on 493 carries and scored 53 touchdowns.

In the recruiting process, however, the speedy 6-foot, 180-pounder fell into the athlete category because his assets — including his exceptionally quick acceleration — made him highly recruitable at a number of positions, especially running back, wide receiver and cornerback.

"The plan is for me to play slot, to come in and be a receiver," Jennings said. "I think I can make an impact early. If receiver doesn't work out, I always have the skill sets to go off to either side of the ball. If they want me to, I can still play corner, but the plan is for me to come in and play receiver and hopefully get on the field as quickly as possible."

Poggi said the Cavaliers' new offensive system will be a good fit for Jennings.

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