By Aaron Snyder - The Independent
WESTWOOD --Even though he’s now an NFL running back, Cleveland Brown Chris Jennings won’t forget where he came from.
Jennings returned to Fairview High School Friday night for a ceremony in which his jersey was retired, in recognition of the mark Jennings stamped on Fairview football history. He rolled for more than 3,200 rushing yards in two seasons as an Eagle after transferring from Huntington High School in 2002.
“They accepted me here, and I did my job in the classroom and on the field,” Jennings said after the Fairview-East Carter basketball game Friday night. “After that a lot of respect came. I love the community and they love me back.”
It was the first time Jennings was able to visit in a while, but, in his defense, he has been a tad busy.
After graduating from the University of Arizona, Jennings worked his way toward a professional football career in the Canadian Football League, as a member of the Montreal Alouettes in 2008.
Jennings recalled when he was invited for a tryout with the Browns before the 2009 season.
“When they brought me to a tryout, I said to myself, ‘Here’s your opportunity to get your foot in the door, take advantage of this,’” Jennings said. “Once that happened, then I started playing, they started putting me in more, and things started happening. I realized, this is real.”
Jennings made his NFL debut in a preseason home game against Detroit, on Aug. 22. He played special teams as the Browns kicked off to the Lions.
“The first time I strapped up, it was the kickoff, (I was the) first one down the field. I was running down, head swelling in my helmet,” Jennings laughed at himself. “I can’t even say how that feeling was.”
Jennings said that he didn’t fully absorb that he was playing in the NFL until his second or third game. He took his first carry on Oct. 4, in a game against the Bengals in Cleveland. He ran once for eight yards and caught a pass for two.
In his rookie season, Jennings rushed for 220 yards on 63 carries, including a 73-yard performance on the ground in a 13-6 win over the Steelers on Thursday Night Football, in which he also scored a touchdown.
That was the first of four straight wins to end an otherwise forgettable season on a high note for the Browns, and it may have helped Jennings’ coach, Eric Mangini, keep his job.
“Mangini is a tough one, but you’ve gotta love him at the end of the day,” Jennings said. “At the end of the season, we were practicing in full pads. What team does that? But we went out there on game day and kicked butt.
“At the end of the day, I respect that man,” said Jennings of Mangini. “I like his coaching style. It’s hard-nosed, but it gets the job done.”
As for the four-game winning streak to cap off his rookie year, it left Jennings extremely excited for next season as a Brown.
“I hope that (winning streak) will carry over,” Jennings said. “I know I’m hungry. The guys in the locker room — they’re hungry. This next year should be an exciting year.”
Every time Jennings takes the field and hears the national anthem, he remembers what got him to that point.
“Tears come down every national anthem,” Jennings said. “All the hard work, it was all worth it.
“Coming from Ashland, I love this community. It ain’t the biggest, but it’s got the biggest heart. You never forget home.”