Big decision looms, but Gilman's Jennings focused on season

When Darius Jennings took the field for Gilman's football opener a week ago, he wasn't thinking about being one of the nation's top recruits or about settling on a college program. He tuned that out to focus on the game -- and it showed right away.

He ran back the opening kickoff 88 yards for a touchdown to spark the No. 1 Greyhounds to a 41-14 win at No. 6 Archbishop Spalding. He later returned another kickoff for a touchdown and finished the game with 383 all-purpose yards and five touchdowns.

The 6-foot, 180-pound All-Metro quarterback, who excels at running the Wildcat offense, picked up where he left off last season, when he rushed for 2,028 yards and broke Ambrose Wooden's 2002 single-season school record by nearly 400yards.

"He's got a couple of speeds -- faster and fastest," Spalding coach Mike Whittles said. "You don't think he could be any faster or quicker and then he is. He can really turn on the jets, and he's extremely elusive."

With all that going for him and a 4.4-second 40-yard dash, Jennings is one of the most sought-after college prospects in the country, rated No. 2 in the nation in the athlete category by and No. 18 by Overall, ranks him No. 175, which is in the top 1 percent.

"He's a great athlete, and he can project at a lot of different positions at the next level," Mike Farrell of said. "When you see him with the football and the ability to make people miss, his speed -- I know he's a very, very fast kid -- we could see his explosiveness. The fact that he can play wide receiver, cornerback, safety, running back -- all those things in college is really impressive to us."

Maryland made the first scholarship offer last fall after Jennings ran for 275 yards and three touchdowns against Good Counsel, whom the Greyhounds will meet tonight at 7:30 in the I-95 Kickoff Classic at Towson University's Johnny Unitas Stadium. After 30 initial offers, Jennings has narrowed his list to 10: Maryland, Penn State, Pittsburgh, Ohio State, Boston College, Connecticut, Virginia, Virginia Tech, Wake Forest and UCLA.

The pressure to choose just the right school from that impressive list -- for academics and football -- could overwhelm any 17-year-old, and Jennings acknowledges that he has felt swamped at times.

"Now that the season has started," Jennings said, "I try not to let it get to me too much. I know coaches are going to be stopping by the school, coming to games to try to talk to me, but I just have to know that eyes are always going to be on me."

While other prospects are orally committing every day, Jennings will take his time, letting everything rest until Gilman's season ends. Then he will take his five official visits, including one to UCLA, the only school he did not make it to this summer. He said his final decision might not come until Signing Day on Feb. 2.

"This is a big decision in my life," Jennings said. "It's not just the next four or five years, but the school I go to is going to stay with me forever and it's going to carry me throughout my lifetime, so I just want to make sure that I do make the right decision. Once I commit to a school, I want to make sure I stick with that school."

That's a decision supported by his coaches and his parents.

"He's resisted the societal trends of instant gratification to make an informed decision," Gilman coach Biff Poggi said. "So he's gone to look at places, he's talked to a lot of people, he's consulted with his coaches and with his dad, and he's going to make a really good decision. This won't be a kid that you'll be writing about in 18 months who says, 'Jeez, I picked the wrong place.'"

Lawrence Jennings visited most of the schools with his son and offered advice, but he expects his son to make his own decision.

"Knowing Darius, he'll probably take a long time to make a choice," Lawrence Jennings said. "You don't want to rush into this. He had to wade through the offers, and it's a lot to ask of a young man. One suggestion I gave him was: 'Put it off until after the season. That way you can concentrate on your season, have fun, enjoy your last year.'"

Darius Jennings said he plans to pick the school he's most comfortable with and that he's not concerned right now with position. He has played just about everything except lineman at Gilman, but most schools are looking at him as a slot receiver or cornerback, he said.

Farrell said Jennings has NFL potential and that his best shot likely would be at cornerback.

Despite all the attention, the teenager finds it pretty easy to stay grounded. He doesn't act like an entitled superstar. He takes out the trash, does dishes and listens to his parents when they stress academics over sports; he maintains a 3.0 grade-point average.

Recently, he found time to play video games with a Gilman lower-school student after he heard from the boy's babysitter that the boy idolized him. That wouldn't surprise Poggi, who said what makes Jennings special has nothing to do with his physical gifts but instead has everything to do with his character.

Loyola coach Brian Abbott sees that from the far sideline.

"Athletically, he's the 1 percent of 1 percent," Abbott said. "He's that rare talent you don't get to see much. He's one of those special kids, and he carries himself as a great young man. I've never seen him do anything to show lack of character. In today's society, that's rare."

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