EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – Rashad Jennings never made fun of the fat kid with asthma who couldn't keep up with everyone else: Jennings was that kid.
Now he's the likely starter at running back for the Giants, and he credits his difficult childhood for much of his success.
"I've had the opportunity to overcome so much, and that's really where my drive is from," Jennings said Thursday. "I was the dorky kid, overweight, glasses, the 0.6 GPA. Asthma. "I had to really work out and because of that I am appreciative of how much I had to learn."
Jennings didn't have high expectations — or much of any expectations, really — growing up in Forest, Virginia. At least not until he realized how badly he was wasting his life.
"I got tired of being called the fat kid, tired of hearing it on all these levels," he said. "I woke up one day and ran, literally. I outran asthma. My grades, I got them up. Anything that was against me, I found an answer.
"At a point in my life, I did a 180," added Jennings, who runs a camp in Lynchburg, Virginia called, yes, Camp 180. "It was a matter of taking ownership over grades, taking responsibility and being accountable. I stopped making excuses."
And he soon began making plays on the football field, going from a self-described scrub to a highly sought prospect. He even transferred from Jefferson Forest High School to Liberty Christian Academy, then was heavily recruited by colleges.
Jennings went to Pitt for one year, then transferred back home to Liberty, where no one was calling him anything except a pro prospect. He rushed for more than 1,000 yards in all three seasons at the FCS school, including a career-best 1,500 in 2008.
That only got him drafted 250th overall, by Jacksonville. Not many seventh-rounders make the NFL.
Big deal, Jennings thought. Just another challenge.
"I've always felt I had to prove myself," he said. "Since I've entered the league, it's been to prove that I'm a complete back. That's being able to catch the ball out of the backfield; being able to protect the quarterback; being able to hold onto the football. Third and short: can make the play. Fourth and goal: can make the play. Third and long: can make the play. Never having to come off the field.
"That's something, entering the league, that I've always wanted to put my name on. So many times as a running back you get labeled. You get labeled a power back. You hear guys get labeled a receiver. You hear guys get labeled as a speedster. I want to be known as a complete back."
Jennings, 29, joined the Giants as a free agent in March, making New York his third team in three years. He played his first four NFL seasons in Jacksonville, mostly as a backup to Maurice Jones-Drew. He left for Oakland a year ago and started eight games while showing his versatility with 733 yards rushing and six touchdowns, plus 36 receptions for another 292 yards.
This will be the first time he's truly been looked at as the feature back in someone's training camp. David Wilson is coming off neck surgery, Andre Williams is a rookie, and the rest of the running backs don't have the versatility of Jennings.
"I think that I'm not going in any differently," Jennings said of needing a new mindset. "To be able to say that is really doing an injustice to the position that I've always had. I've always approached the game as I am a starter. The mental reps, the physical reps, taking care of my body on and off the field — all those apply. As a football player, I can't imagine you stepping out on the field and not caring."
NOTES: Coach Tom Coughlin cut short the outdoor practice Thursday to give the players 30 minutes of indoor stretching. He called it a recovery stretch, and when asked if a new, more scientific regimen met his approval, he drew laughs by responding: "I'm doing the best I can." ... Top draft pick WR Odell Beckham Jr. missed his second straight practice with a hamstring problem.
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