Jennings lights Blaze fire toward semifinals

Jennings lights Blaze fire toward semifinals

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Jennings lights Blaze fire toward semifinals

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MURFREESBORO

Two piles of unopened letters rest against a ledge in the Blackman High football fieldhouse behind some weight lifting equipment.

All are addressed to the same person. They include big envelopes from Alabama and many other SEC programs and smaller envelopes from others.

Just don’t ask Jauan Jennings — to whom the mail its addressed to — what they say. He’s got bigger and better things to do than sift through recruiting letters.

No, that mail can wait a week – maybe a couple weeks – for the Blackman first-year quarterback. The letters and the college offers aren’t going anywhere.

Jennings, a 6-foot-4, 185-pound junior quarterback, leads the fifth-ranked Blaze (11-2) into its biggest game to date in school history. Blackman plays at 6 p.m. (CT) today at top-ranked Maryville (13-0) in a Class 6A semifinal. It marks the first semifinal in school history.

And Jennings is a key reason why Blackman is still practicing while most across the state have turned in their uniforms. Jennings has completed 74-of-153 passes for a school-record 1,344 yards with 14 touchdowns and five interceptions. He’s also run for 700 yards on 117 carries with six more scores.

“We have not played anybody as talented as him all year,” Maryville coach George Quarles said. “He’s got good speed. He’s athletic, and he throws it well. There is a reason why he has all of these D-I offers.

“I don’t know if we can stop him. Hopefully, we’ll limit the big plays.”

Jennings has numerous college offers from large FBS programs. They include Auburn, Duke, MTSU, Nebraska, New Mexico State, Northwestern, Ole Miss, Ohio State, Tennessee and Vanderbilt.

There have been times this season when Jennings has provided a highlight reel for the Blaze. There were the 360-degree turns to avoid a defender as he was running down field one week. There has been long dives into the end zone to cap scores.

And when he’s in sync with his receivers, watch out.

All of that is important if Blackman wants to escape Maryville with a chance to play in next week’s 6A championship game. Blackman coach Philip Shadowens said a quality quarterback is crucial at the 6A level.

“At the top classifications year in and year out, I haven’t seen a team win (the state championship) with a bad quarterback,” Shadowens said. “You look at the teams at Smyrna that won it, you had Sonny Gray. All the teams that were at Riverdale and won it all had great quarterbacks. Most of your Maryville teams have had great quarterbacks.

“I just think in the top classification in this state in order to win it is have a quarterback that is a mover and a shaker, and one that’s a gamer. We certainly feel like we have that. Obviously, we think we have more than just that. But I think you have to have a big-time quarterback to win at the top level.”

And Jennings passes the eye test. He’s got a rocket for an arm and is swift on the run. His lone drawback at times has been turnovers. In Oakland’s 9-3 win in Week 9 over Blackman, Jennings lost two fumbles and threw an interception.

Jennnings said he has benefited from having teammates around him that can make big plays. He had less than 50 yards of offense last week in Blackman’s 17-3 win, including just a 1-yard passing.

“I’ve known since before the season that I have playmakers around me,” Jennings said. “It just isn’t me.”

But if a play breaks down and the ball is in his hands, he knows it’s up to him to do something for the team.

“It’s a matter of whatever coach calls I’m going to run,” Jennings said. “If something breaks down, yeah it’s my job to make something out of nothing.”

More times than not, he’s making something.

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