Gilman grad Darius Jennings living up to the hype at Virginia

When someone has coached for as long as Gilman's Biff Poggi, it becomes difficult to remember the finer details of past games. But he still remembers the moments.

Like when Poggi and his Greyhounds found themselves in a "tough situation" locked in a close game a few years ago. The coach recalls becoming overexcited and focusing too much on the outcome of the game. While he may not remember what year the game was or which team Gilman was playing, he can recall a player approaching him.

"He comes up to me and says, 'Don't worry, Coach. We got this,'" Poggi recalled. "How interesting is it to see a 17-year-old advising a 50-year-old? But that's who Darius is."

That would be Darius Jennings, the former Gilman standout and current Virginia wide receiver, a young man Poggi describes as "wise beyond his years." That maturity has served him well on his path from Baltimore to Charlottesville. This fall, Jennings — who will lead the Cavaliers against Maryland on Saturday at Scott Stadium — has risen to a prominent role on the football field because of who he is off the field.

Six games into the season Jennings leads all Virginia receivers in receptions (24) and yards per game (56.5). His 339 receiving yards is 100 more than the next closest total.

"Darius has basically, as a true sophomore, become that guy," said Virginia coach Mike London. "But Darius has proven he has the ability going back from last year."

Jennings played in all 13 games as a true freshman, amassing 837 all-purpose yards, good enough for third on the team. A majority of those yards came off kick returns, a role that has lessened for him this season. But once his freshman year ended, Jennings knew this season would be different.

"I knew we had a lot of seniors leaving," Jennings said. "I knew me and my teammates were going to have to step up."

And not just in the stat sheet.

"He has really taken that role of being a leader in the huddle and the go-to guy," said London, adding that the sophomore isn't afraid to be vocal at times, something his team needs.

Poggi wasn't the least bit surprised that his former star quarterback, who at one point had the nickname "Superfrosh," received playing time so early in his college career and has performed the way he has.

"He's one of the most explosive kids in the country," Poggi said.

But Poggi says it's not just Jennings' natural physical ability that separates him — it's the person he is off the field that allows him to be successful.

"He's a wonderful guy," Poggi said. "He has a deep faith that is important to him. He's great teammate… [and] his work ethic in school is crazy."

That faith has helped Jennings stay humble and "grounded," at Virginia (2-4, 0-2 Atlantic Coast Conference). It has helped remind him that nothing is guaranteed and that everything must be earned through hard work.

"I'm working to this day, trying to be the best player I can be," Jennings said.

Saturday's homecoming game against Maryland, which possesses the No. 2 defense in the ACC, will be another test for Jennings and his work ethic. It's also another year to embrace the border rivalry from his home-state school.

"It's going to be great. It's a great rivalry. I know a lot of guys at the University of Maryland and it's definitely going to be a big game, but it is just another ACC game," Jennings said.

Against Maryland or any other football team, Jennings has been taking full advantage of the opportunities presented to him. And if for some reason Jennings doesn't find himself on the winning end Saturday, he'll do his best to find a way next time.

"If I'm not better than you," Jennings said, "I'm going to out work you and out smart you to beat you."


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