Off the Field with Greg Jennings (Part 1)

Off the Field with Greg Jennings (Part 1)

words_Jordan Hagedorn

In a sports era filled with crazy media coverage and interesting characters, down to earth family man Greg Jennings is a breath of fresh air.

On the field Jennings is your typical 6 foot tall, 200 pound, super athletic NFL Wide Receiver, but off the field he is not your ordinary pro athlete.

Born in Kalamazoo, MI and raised by Greg Sr., a pastor and Gwen, a church missionary, Jennings attended Kalamazoo Central High School where he was All-Conference in basketball, track and football. In hoops he scored a school record 50 points in a game and in his senior year (2000-2001) finished 7th in the Michigan Mr. basketball voting, which resulted in being recruited by several college basketball programs including power house Michigan State. When asked about his high school basketball days he laughs as he says, “I was actually a ball hog. If the ball came to me I was putting it up.”

As a football player for the Central Maroon Giants, Greg earned three letters playing wide receiver, running back, defensive back and outside linebacker. Late in his high school career he was recruited by football powerhouse Michigan. Greg says “I actually verbally committed to Lloyd Carr (the then Wolverine Head Football Coach), my dad and myself sitting in his office and then my senior year like 2 weeks before signing day they told me they ran out of scholarships. Western Michigan had always told me that they would have a scholarship waiting for me and it turned out to be the best thing not only for myself but my family.”

When discussing why he chose to play college football over basketball he explains, “Going down to the numbers – 53 man roster in football, 12 man roster in basketball, talking the next level, it was pretty much an easy decision to choose football.”

Jennings accepted a scholarship to play football for his hometown Western Michigan Broncos and in 2002 as a red-shirt freshman he broke an ankle bone against Virginia Tech forcing him to miss 4 games.

The next year he bounced back and in the first game of the 2003 season caught 10 balls for 107 yards and 2 touchdowns. He started the year recording at least 100 yards in 4 of the first 5 games and had 8 touchdowns through the first 5 contests, including a game where he snagged 6 balls for 117 yards and 2 scores despite being triple-teamed by the Eastern Michigan defense.

On November 15th against rival Central Michigan he recorded 8 catches for 204 yards and 3 TDs in a 44-21 victory including his favorite college football memory where QB John Drach threw him a 94 yard touchdown pass in the third quarter. Greg ended the year with 56 catches for 1,050 yards and a school record 14 scores earning second team All-Mid American honors.

In 2004 Jennings and the WMU Broncos struggled, finishing with a 1-10 record. Although they only won one game, Greg was a standout on the Western roster.

On October 9th against Toledo he had 4 catches for 129 yards and 2 touchdowns averaging over 32 yards per catch. He had at least 8 catches and 120+ yards in 4 of the next 5 games, finishing the year with 74 receptions for 1,092 yards and 11 TDs. He scored a TD in six straight games on his way to leading the conference in catches, yards, punt return average, points, all-purpose yards and touchdowns. He would be named to the All-MAC First Team and the Broncos’ Most Valuable Player.

In Jennings’ senior year, the Western Michigan Broncos named Bill Cubit their new Head Coach. In the first game of 2005 Greg caught 16 balls for 156 yards against Virginia. On October 1st in the second quarter of a 31-21 win over Buffalo, Greg showed his versatility by throwing a 22 yard touchdown pass to Joe Chapple. The following week Jennings had a huge game in a 60-57 OT loss to Ball State where he had 11 catches for 244 yards and 4 touchdowns. He followed that up with 8 catches for 162 yards and 2 TDs in a 45-14 win over Bowling Green.

Jennings also had a big game against heated rival Central Michigan, catching 9 balls for 171 yards and a couple TDs. Coach Cubit brought an offensive mindset to the Broncos which helped Jennings flourish. In 2005 Western Michigan transformed the program from a 1-10 record to 7-4, the biggest one season turnaround in Mid-American Conference History.

Jennings against Virginia on 09.03.05 (left) and versus Bowling Green on 10.22.05 (credit GS Photo)

When asked about Jennings, Coach Bill Cubit says “You’re not going to find a better character guy. He doesn’t complain, he does things the right way. The people around here just adore him. He’s genuine.” Cubit raves about Jennings and what he accomplished when he was at Western Michigan and what he has done for the University. “Greg took it upon himself to help his teammates. He has great work ethic, leads by example and believed in what we were doing. He has set the stage for Bronco football.”

Continue on to “Off the Field with Greg Jennings” Part 2.

Off the Field with Greg Jennings (Part 1)

Off the Field with Greg Jennings (Part 2)

…continued from Part 1 of “Off the Field with Greg Jennings”

When asking Western Michigan Director of Athletics Kathy Beauregard about Jennings, she talks about how great of a player he was and how he did it the right way. She also talks about how he and his family continue to be involved in the Kalamazoo community. She said, “He is no doubt one of the strongest leaders I have ever seen. He is an incredible role model.”

During Jennings’ senior year at WMU, he didn’t enroll in classes second semester so he could focus on training for the NFL Draft. “When he left, he promised he’d come back and get his degree,” says Beauregard. “He committed to coming back, and last off season he finished up his degree.” Jennings finally walked the stage at Western Michigan on May 1, 2010, in Kalamazoo.

Western Michigan Athletic Director Kathy Beauregard with Greg Jennings and University President John M. Dunn at Graduation.

After a very successful college career at Western Michigan where he recorded 172 catches for 2,351 yards and 25 touchdowns, Greg was drafted 52nd overall in the 2006 NFL Draft by the Green Bay Packers.

In his rookie season he had some good games and finished the year with 632 yards on 45 catches for an average of 14 yards per catch with 3 TDs, including future Hall of Famer Brett Favre’s 400th TD pass on September 24, 2006.

In Greg’s second year he had a break-out season with 920 yards and 12 scores, including his favorite memory as a Packer, where he caught an 82-yard game-winning touchdown from Brett Favre against the Denver Broncos on October 29, 2007, which happened to be Monday Night Football. He also caught both Favre’s 420th record-tying and 421st record-breaking TD passes in September of 2007.

Despite all the quarterback drama with the Packers in 2008, Greg meshed well with new QB Aaron Rodgers and finished the year with a career high – 80 catches for 1,292 yards and 9 TDs. Last year he accumulated 1,113 yards on 68 catches with 4 TDs while taking a lot of pressure off fellow WR Donald Driver and stud TE Jermichael Finley.

As Jennings’ on-field accolades continue, it is the off-the-Field actions that are most impressive. Greg and his wife Nicole do a ton for communities in Wisconsin and Michigan. In 2007, they started the Greg Jennings Foundation, which helps underprivileged people by partnering with other organizations. In fact, the weekend Eastbay did the cover shoot with Greg he was in Kalamazoo on-site with Habitat for Humanity, where a new house was being built for a family in need.

Even when it came to wanting a new contract last year, he handled it in a respectable way, not threatening to hold out but just going about his daily football routine.

His hard work and positive attitude paid off as he ended up inking what was, at the time, the second largest WR payday only behind his friend Larry Fitzgerald. It was a three-year deal worth $27 million. Although that is a lot of cash, most Packer fans would tell you he is worth every penny.

Jennings continues to push himself by working with NFL greats Jerry Rice and Cris Carter along with the aforementioned Fitzgerald to keep getting better. GJ is on the verge of becoming a Pro Bowler, but discusses his team first. He speaks highly of his teammates and when asked about the team goals he says, “Obviously, Super Bowl. It’s something we set out to do each and every year.”

When he talks about the Super Bowl there’s no doubt the loyal Green Bay fans will be supporting their team. When asked about the Packers’ culture Jennings says, “It’s second to none, number 1. The fans, the organization, it’s like a huge family. Everyone cares about the betterment of their peers and co-workers, which transitions to what we do on the field. The culture of the Packers is phenomenal.”

Greg and the Packers have started the pre-season and in their first game against the Browns, he caught a 25-yard TD pass and finished with three catches for 68 yards. In the second game he had just one catch, but it went for 56 yards.

With great athleticism, a knack for making game changing plays and a good head on his shoulders, Greg Jennings sets the standard for pro athletes on and off the field. He handles himself with the utmost respect, professionalism and humbleness, all with a joking attitude and a smile on his face.

For more info on Greg Jennings check out his Official Website.