There are many adjectives to describe Marietta (Ga.) High School's Anthony Jennings, but after watching what the 6-foot-2, 205 pound quarterback went through last year, toughness jumps to the top of the list.
"Anthony tore cartilage in his knee in our very first game," said Marietta coach Scott Burton. "He played with that injury for the entire season. I think that says a lot about this kid."
Funny thing is, the injury might have actually helped Jennings.
"It was a blessing in disguise," Jennings said. "I had to be more prepared. I had to be smarter out there. It helped me be more of a true QB. I had to get better at reading defenses and getting in the film room. I really think the injury helped my development."
Jennings competed 60 percent of his passes (165 of 273) for 2,187 yards and 19 TDs and only 4 INTs. He also rushed for 464 yards and 8 TDs
in leading Marietta to a 5-5 season. All on a bum knee.
"Schools are amazed what he did last season," Burton said. "He now has scholarship offers from Virginia Tech, North Carolina, Boston College, Syracuse, Kentucky, USF, Arkansas State and others. I am having conversations with Oklahoma State, Missouri, Alabama, Oregon, Tennessee and Vandy. I think a new school calls me each day about him."
And why wouldn't they? One of the top QBs in the state, Jennings has long arms, big hands and size 15 shoes. His dad, Willie, played on the defensive line at Georgia and there's a chance Anthony hasn't stopped growing yet.
"This is a very athletic kid," Burton said. "He's explosive. Anthony has a vertical [jump] of 33 inches and a 9-foot-5 broad jump. He power cleans 275. He runs very well and he can really throw the football."
But he's more than an athlete playing quarterback. Jennings is a quick learner with an uncanny understanding of the game.
"Anthony has an extremely high football IQ," Burton said. "He gets it the first time you tell him something and then can build on that. He applies everything very quickly. I mean he does things as you tell him. He trusts what you say and goes and does that. That's rare. He can process, translate and apply better than anyone I have ever been around. He understands where everyone is supposed to be. Anthony knows the offensive line protections, fronts, and coverages in a much deeper nature. He understands why he has to know these things. He loves film study. The kid is really vested at playing this position."
For Jennings, he thinks back to the 2011 season with frustration as well as fulfillment. Coming off a 2-8 season, Jennings and his teammates spent the offseason working to make sure that didn't happen again. They didn't make the playoffs, but they showed improvement on the field and mental toughness off it as well.
"Man, I worked hard last spring and summer," Jennings said. "We came into this past season and started rough once again with four losses. Then we had four wins that got us back in the playoff picture. Something changed and I know I can look back at the offseason as to why.
"And of course the team helped me and had my back. With the injury I tried to keep a very positive attitude. The knee injury hurt it but I didn't think about. I played through it. It was painful and very inflamed at times. In the end, I just knew I couldn't let my team down. We worked too hard. I bet I was playing at 60 percent."
Now, Jennings is in the middle of rehab. He had knee surgery a little over a month ago and all indications are that he will be 100 percent by the fall.
"The last thing I want to do is rush this thing," Burton said. "I am hoping he will be ready for spring ball and I think he will. But we are going to take it very easy with him."
So while he rehabs, he sorts through things on the recruiting front. Jennings said he would like to make the decision before the season simply because he wants his senior year to be about his team, not about where he's going to continue his football career. But he also insists he will take his time with his decision.
Jennings admits he grew up rooting for Georgia because of his father and his ties to the program. He also has a connection out west, as his mom is from Seattle. And he's talking about possibly visiting Virginia Tech, Oregon and USF in the near future. But nothing is close to being done yet.
"I don't have a favorite at this time," Jennings said. "I want to take it all in and then have me and my family decide what is the best place. I am trying to learn everything I can about these schools. They all have a different recruiting approach. They all have great facilities. I just have to figure out what is best for me."