Focusing on field, degree
Arizona running back Chris Jennings spent every day last season playing and practicing as if the walk-on’s spot on the roster depended on it.
Jennings has been awarded a scholarship since then, but the senior is still giving his best effort on every play. That’s because he is slated for the starting lineup for the Sept. 1 opener at BYU.
“I never expected to come 3,000 miles away from my house and lollygag,” said Jennings, who is from Ashland, Ky. “It was a business trip. I wanted to get a scholarship, and I wanted to get my degree. Nothing has changed.
“Anybody who wants this has to stay hungry and never give up your dream. I really wanted to accomplish some things in my life, and I was not willing to give that up.”
Jennings was told by many coaches out of high school that he might be better suited as a linebacker. But he thought differently.
The 5-foot-10, 211-pound tailback, after just missing his qualifying score out of Fairview High School, went to Arizona Western College in Yuma to get his grades in order and to get a better perspective on what he should do next.
At UA, he played against two top-10 teams during his first month on the Division I level, rushing for 53 yards on eight carries at LSU, then starting against USC.
The 201 yards he rushed for against Stephen F. Austin in between those games as a starter for the suspended Chris Henry piqued some interest. That total was good for the 10th-best single-game rushing effort in school history.
Yet Jennings is more proud of his game against LSU.
“Everybody looks back at Stephen F. Austin,” he said. “LSU was a big game for me. That is big time. My mind-set was ‘I am not scared of anybody.’ For me to go out there and have that mind-set to run behind the O-line and everybody to click, click, click, that was an eye-opener for me. Stephen F. Austin was icing on the cake.”
Jennings wound up starting six games, gaining 451 yards and scoring three touchdowns.
Jennings shared the top spot with Henry last year, and this season Xavier Smith is battling him at every turn.
Jennings is not taking anything for granted.
“This whole thing has been a trip, a long journey,” he said. “When I got on the plane, it was business. Coming out and making friends just comes with it, but I wanted to come out here and focus on one thing only – to get my degree, graduate and try to go pro.”
Jennings has proved he has not gone soft. He entered camp about 10 pounds lighter and with a quicker first step.
“He is cut up like a Greek god,” UA first-year running backs coach Michael Smith said. “The kid is ready to take it to the next level.”