MORGANTOWN, W.Va. - West Virginia University wide receiver Gary Jennings
Jr. has been a pretty busy guy these days.
Not only is he working hard getting prepared for his junior season at WVU, he’s also representing the Big 12 Conference as a member of the NCAA Division I Football Oversight Committee, a role he took on last November.
Oklahoma’s Khadeem Lattin is the Big 12’s student-athlete representative for men’s basketball.
“It’s been going well,” Jennings said recently. “You see a lot of interesting things. It’s a pretty vast field of what is actually out there. You realize it, but you don’t really realize it until you are submersed and actually in it.”
The stated goals of the Football Oversight Committee include the development of the sport, with special priority given to the enhancement of the student-athlete educational experience.
“It’s great that we have a voice,” Jennings said. “You mainly communicate through emails and voice conferences and stuff like that. There are so many different things we’re dealing with … player safety, player development and all of that stuff.”
As for Jennings’ personal development in Jake Spavital’s West Virginia offense, he said that’s coming along nicely, too.
Jennings has played a supplemental role in the Mountaineer offense the last two seasons, catching a total of 17 passes for 281 yards and three touchdowns.
The Stafford, Virginia, resident appeared in 13 games as a true freshman, accumulating seven receptions for 116 yards and a touchdown – that coming in WVU’s 43-42, come-from-behind victory over Arizona State in the 2016 Cactus Bowl.
It looked like Jennings was going to use his bowl-game performance against the Sun Devils as a springboard into his sophomore season in 2016, but he managed to catch just 10 passes for 165 yards and two touchdowns in a backup role.
However, both touchdowns he scored last season were meaningful, coming in big home victories over TCU and Baylor, his 58-yarder from Skyler Howard late in the third quarter finally putting West Virginia in the lead over the Bears.
Jennings, at 6-feet-1 inches and 207 pounds, gives West Virginia some added size and physicality at the Y receiver spot this fall. He caught five passes for 46 yards in the Gold-Blue Spring Game and heads into the fall slotted as one of WVU’s top receivers, along with X David Sills V
and Z Ka’Raun White.
Jennings said the receivers group has been focused on getting better this summer.
“Right now, everyone in our room is able to do their role when called upon and I feel like we’re doing a great job of that,” he said. “Everyone is doing their necessary job of preparing and catching balls, and it looks very good right now.”
Some of the biggest question marks concerning this year’s offense are in that receivers room, specifically, who is going to replace Shelton Gibson’s explosive, down-field playmaking abilities and Daikiel Shorts Jr.’s consistency and reliability working the middle of the field?
Those two guys accounted for 106 catches, 1,845 yards and 13 touchdowns.
All of that production is going to have to be picked up by someone, and Jennings believes there are more than enough talented players to make that happen.
“I think we have great variety, which makes us so dangerous,” he said. “We have plenty of guys who can stretch the field from Marcus (Simms) to Jovon (Durante) to even David, who can stretch the field at times. We spend numerous hours on our own during the day catching the ball so we’re perfecting our craft doing that. There are so many things we’re learning from Coach (Tyron) Carrier and he’s teaching us so well, too.”
The guys are also learning a lot from new offensive coordinator Spavital, whose time spent away from West Virginia at Texas A&M and Cal brings some different perspectives to the Mountaineer offense.
Even though Spavital’s roots are in the Hal Mumme/Mike Leach/Dana Holgorsen coaching tree, he also has his own ideas of how to do things.
Matching Spavital’s and Holgorsen’s offensive minds together has everyone in Mountaineer Nation excited, including the players.
“I love Jake as a coach,” Jennings said. “He’s always asking us what we’re seeing and he’s developing the offense in a very positive way.”
For Jennings, that could mean more balls coming his way, especially now that Florida transfer Will Grier
has been given clearance by the NCAA to play a full season for the Mountaineers.
Grier is extremely intelligent quarterback who can make all of the throws, according to Jennings.
The receiver has certainly been very impressed with what he’s seen so far of the former national high school player of the year.
“(Grier is) a very smart guy. He knows where he wants us to be and he knows where we will be,” Jennings said. “Even after each play we have short conversations, what did we see right there? It’s pretty cool.”
Jennings said his No. 1 goal is developing into one of the leaders of the Mountaineer offense this year.
“Just making sure everything jells and everyone is on the same page and on the same track,” he said.
West Virginia’s season-opening game against Virginia Tech will have special meaning to Jennings because of the time he spent playing at Colonial Forge High in Stafford, Virginia.
Jennings is familiar with many of the Hokies players, particularly those 757 area code guys in the Tidewater region that produces so many good football players each year.
A lot of those guys have ended up in Blacksburg, Virginia, through the years.
“Oh yeah, they can play,” Jennings said. “I’ve played against some of them. They’ve definitely got some athletes.
“But right now we’re just trying to focus on the upcoming camp and we’re not trying to get too far ahead of ourselves,” he added.
Indeed, it looks like Jennings is taking this leadership thing to heart.
It all begins in just three weeks with fall training camp, scheduled to get underway on Sunday, July 30.