Interview by Casey Doyle
Darius Jennings was one of the best Football players to ever grace Gilman’s Brown Field. Darius rushed for 4,338 yards and scored 53 touchdowns during his career at Gilman. Darius also won three out of his four Gilman vs. McDonogh games and led Gilman to victory as quarterback during his Junior and Senior years. After four stellar years at Gilman, Darius decided to attend The University of Virginia to play wide receiver. After graduating from Virginia in 2015, Darius tried out for and made the Browns practice squad, later activated for the last few weeks of the season. He started the year on the Browns practice squad, Darius was released and had a stint with the Chicago Bears until he signed where he is today, with the New York Jets. Darius finished this past season with the Jets and has signed with the Jets for the 2017-2018 season. Darius looks forward to the rest of his hopefully successful NFL career. Below is a question and answer with Darius Jennings:
Question: What was the hardest part about transitioning from quarterback to wide receiver at Virginia?
Darius Jennings: I think being a quarterback in high school definitely helped my transition to receiver. It allowed me to see the big picture of the play. But the hardest part was just learning the small nuances of being a receiver, like running routes, keeping my body lean the same to make all of my routes look the same, being deceptive with my eyes and hands to fool the DB, small things like that. And as you experience more and play more, you learn different techniques and you learn what works and what doesn’t. I also had to learn how to play without the ball in my hands every play.
Q: What was the biggest difference between high school football and college football?
DJ: The biggest difference between high school ball and college ball is that you can’t rely on pure talent anymore. Everybody was a superstar at their high schools, so you have to elevate your play and really put the time and dedication in. The stage is bigger as well. Instead of playing in front of 5,000 people at the Gilman McDonogh game, it’s 50,000-100,000 any given week (depending on where you play).
Q: What was the biggest difference between college football and the NFL?
DJ: The biggest difference from college to the league is the speed and the complexity of the game. Playbooks are bigger, schemes are harder and teams disguise their coverages a lot more. And you have to diagnose it all within a matter of seconds (sometimes on the fly). It also becomes people’s livelihood - how we feed and provide for our families. So the margin for error is slim to none. A costly mistake can cost you your job or that of a teammate or coach. So with that the stress and intensity of the game rises. It pays well, though.
Q: Why did you choose to go to Virginia instead of Ohio State?
DJ: When it came down to it, I felt like Virginia was an overall better fit. Family is big to me, and I knew that it would be harder for my parents to come see me play if I had gone to OSU (with the distance and the expenses to travel). Virginia is three hours away, close enough where my parents never missed a home game, but far enough away where they weren’t popping up on a random Tuesday. Just getting a degree from there alone holds weight and I knew that would serve me well in the long run. They didn’t promise me anything, but they told me I could come in as a freshman and compete for playing time right away and that was music to my ears. There aren’t too many head black football coaches in college, so it was refreshing having coach London there as well. And my grandmother loved that fact and that he was a spiritual man. It also made my decision a little easier because at the time Ohio State was going through a few recruiting violations and I was uncertain of the changes that could possibly be made within the program.
Q: What was your major at UVA and do you have any plans for after your NFL career is over?
DJ: I majored in Sociology while I was at UVA. I’ve always felt that I’m supposed to be giving back somehow, helping others and those around me. I think that’s kind of what drew me into Sociology. It allowed me to study different causes and effects on what makes a society successful or not.
But to answer your question, I really have no idea what I want to do to after football. I feel like I might be working with kids in some capacity, I just don’t know what that is yet. It’s a scary thought. I’m 24 and am still trying to sort out my life. That is why I am riding this football wave for as long as I can.
Q: Can you give me a brief synopsis of your time in the NFL and the different teams you have played for?
DJ: I signed with the Cleveland Browns in 2015 as an undrafted free agent. Was actually a tryout player. There were 50 of us competing for 8 contracts and they signed me. I initially made their practice squad and stayed there for the first 12 weeks of the season and then I was activated for the remainder of the season. Started the 2016 season on their practice squad as well. After I was released, I spent time on the Chicago Bears practice squad before I signed on to become a New York Jet. Finished the last month on their practice squad and I signed back with them for next season.
Q: What’s the coolest experience you’ve had as an NFL player?
DJ: Coolest NFL experience would have to be just becoming friends and teammates with guys that we all used to watch on TV. There are definitely perks that come with it. Lol. I can’t tell you what my coolest experience is on the field because I do not believe that it has happened yet. There’s still a lot more in store for me. (Fun fact: I caught Johnny Manziel’s last pass).
Q: What’s your favorite Gilman football experience?
DJ: Coolest Gilman football experiences would have to be scoring a touchdown and having the game winning interception in the Gilman-McDonogh game my freshman year. Winning that same game my senior year on Senior Day and Coach Poggi calling timeout so I could come off the field. And it was always cool when the crowd would rap Lil Wayne’s “Go DJ.”
Q: What lessons have you learned at Gilman that have helped you in your career?
DJ: One thing that I have learned while at Gilman was to always take advantage of your opportunities, but make sure that you leave your mark. I was fortunate enough to be accepted to Gilman in the 2nd grade through the B.E.S.T. program, which helped inner city kids to get into private schools across Baltimore. That might have been the best opportunity that I have had to date. Gilman has laid the foundation for me and opened doors that might not have been possible otherwise. Who knows where I would be? I am definitely a better man because of Gilman. But at the same time, my mother told me the first day that I stepped on campus that, “Gilman will be a better place because you are here as well.” And I still carry that mindset with me wherever I go. I’m grateful that that confidence was instilled with me at an early age, and it has helped me excel as I continue with my journey. Take every opportunity as a blessing, know what you bring to the table and spread it with others.
Q: What’s your favorite NFL experience? What’s your favorite Gilman football experience? Which one did you enjoy more?
DJ: I didn’t answer the “enjoy” part in question five so I’ll do it now lol. I would have to say I definitely enjoyed my high school experiences more. Just because you get to go out there and enjoy the moments with your friends. People who you’ve grown up with and see and hang out with every day. The NFL is more of a business. It’s definitely a dream come true, but guys have families to attend to after practice, so it’s not quite the same. And the league is such a revolving door. People come and go throughout the course of the season. The continuity and security that is there in high school and even in college is lost in the NFL