I’m pretty sure there are two sides to the Jauan Jennings story.
From the beginning of his football time in Murfreesboro, he was the ultimate competitor, a fearless warrior, to heck with the odds, bring it on.
There was a spectacular highlight and a couple of lowlights when he was a Tennessee Volunteer.
Jauan is held in high regard in San Francisco. He was a seventh-round draft choice who turned himself into an NFL millionaire. Super Bowl 58 may be the top of his mountain if the 49ers win. No matter what statistics say, he is for certain a football player.
He is listed as a wide receiver. He is not a speed burner. He catches an occasional pass, often in clutch situations. Fans have nicknamed him “Third and Jauan” because he is the target when his team absolutely has to have a first down.
In reality, he is a gladiator. He’ll hunt down nice, little defensive backs and do his best to destroy them with devastating blocks. Teammates love Jauan. Opponents sometimes say he is a little over the edge.
San Francisco coach Kyle Shanahan says “Jauan is one of a kind. Just watch him on run plays. He does those like he does third-and-seven when there are three guys trying to tackle him. I mean Jauan’s on another level of confidence and energy.
“He always seems like he’s going to rise to the occasion and make one of the most important plays in the game.”
The coach can’t think of anybody in the league that loves playing football more than Jauan Jennings.
There is a treasured story from his high school career at Blackman High. He was doing his best as quarterback and safety but his team was trailing 42-14 in the fourth quarter. Something lit a fuse that turned into a furious 29-0 comeback.
Jennings contributed to the game – 369 yards passing, 105 rushing, a two-point conversion run on the final play, Blackburn 43, Independence High 42.
Jennings, then 6-3 and 185, was MVP in the state basketball tournament. Blackman won the AAA title. Jennings ran the 200 in track and was on the 4×100 relay team. He was the state’s top prospect in football.
Tennessee pretended to recruit Jennings as a quarterback. He quickly became a wide receiver. He was a star. Perhaps you recall his sophomore catch of the Josh Dobbs’ Hail Mary pass that defeated Georgia. It was absolutely unreal.
Georgia obviously won that 2016 game with a 47-yard touchdown pass with 10 seconds remaining. With four seconds to go, Dobbs launched the last-gasp counter-attack, his best bomb.
The play ended with one of the most dramatic catches in Volunteer history. Jauan jumped above a cluster of Bulldogs and came down with the ball.
He was asked when he knew he was going to get it.
“As soon as it was in the air.”
Jennings’ emotions overflowed late in his injury-plagued junior season. Butch Jones was fired in mid-November. Jauan delivered a salty going-away video message, an expletive-laced tirade directed at the you-no-good coaching staff on social media.
Interim coach Brady Hoke, after consultation with athletics director John Currie, dismissed Jennings from the team.
“Representing the University of Tennessee football program is a privilege,” said Hoke.
I can’t tell you what Jauan said. Knox TN Today owner-publisher-editor-writer Sandra Clark won’t allow it.
New coach Jeremy Pruitt found a solution.
“I met with every player when I got here, and I asked every one of them: ‘Do we need Jauan Jennings on our team?’
“And every one of ’em said, ‘Absolutely, Coach.’
“That told me a lot about the respect his teammates had for him.”
Jennings made more bad news as a senior. He tackled Vanderbilt punt returner Justice Shelton-Mosley on the sideline in front of the Tennessee bench. The Commodore lost his helmet. Jauan stepped on his face. All hell broke loose but stopped short of murder.
Jennings said it was an “unfortunate accident.”
The SEC ruled it intentional and suspended Jauan for the first half of the Gator Bowl.
How about that, Coach Pruitt?
“Jauan is the ultimate competitor, aight? I talked to Jauan about it.”
He was selected as the Vols’ MVP and a permanent captain.
San Francisco vice president of player personnel Adam Peters knew the 49ers got a “very interesting” deal in the Jennings draft.
“He’s a 7th rounder, and he’s definitely more talented than a 7th rounder.”
The first contract was $3,406,024 over a four-year span.
This was the worst statistical season of his three, only 19 catches for 265 yards and one touchdown. He may get a raise. He made an assortment of clutch plays.
See Jauan play Sunday, CBS, kickoff or commercials at 6:30. Former Vol Trey Smith will be there with the Kansas City Chiefs.
(Marvin West welcomes comments or questions from readers. His address is firstname.lastname@example.org)