People don’t always talk about it, but the state of Virginia is actually loaded with talent.

Whether you are looking on NFL rosters or the guys we match up with on Saturdays, every depth chart has at least a few names from our state.

For this reason, my passion for the game started when I was only in little league playing for the Laurel Panthers.

Because everyone was so talented, I loved pushing myself to compete, trying to always be the best. I think it was actually from these times that I learned to always believe in myself as well.

Heading into high school, this belief started to become more of a reality. I started getting noticed by universities, which made me want to push myself even harder.

But for me, it was never really about going to recruitment camps. I knew if I did my job on the field, making big plays and helping the team win, my game would get the recognition I always believed it could.

Besides, I didn’t really have time for camps……

Trust me, my parents raised me to remember that there were bigger priorities than just football. I needed to put in the work in the classroom too.

I will never forget the one and only time my effort in the classroom didn’t match what I was giving on the field.

One day during basketball practice, my teammates and I were running through some drills. All of a sudden, my father came in the doors and pulled me out of practice because of a failed assignment in my Spanish class.

Yes, you read that right. Only an assignment….

Man, was I embarrassed. 

But he was right.

Ready to turn things around, I started to show up at 6 AM every day for school so I could get extra help and ensure that I would never let that happen again.

So because of the values instilled in me by my parents, my college choice eventually came down to academics. Not only did I want a program that fit me on the field, but I wanted somewhere that could help me excel in academics as well.

That’s where West Virginia came in.

Yes, I know there are many great schools in Virginia as well, but I wanted to do something different than other people. Something to set me apart.

Committing to West Virginia a few days before signing day, I knew there wasn’t anywhere else I’d rather be.

When I eventually got to Morgantown to start camp, I quickly realized the game was a little different though. Not only was it faster, I immediately felt undersized. I knew I had to work to do and some early mornings.

Instead of Spanish class, this time was in the weight room.

But for me, things really didn’t start to come together until Coach Carrier came in at the end of my sophomore year. Immediately, he broke down the game in a completely different way for us, teaching the wide receiver position from a whole new perspective.

I quickly learned it was less about how big my body was and more about the mental side of the game and how clean my routes were.

One of the toughest things about developing your game is with all of that extra effort, you can’t forget to put the work in on your other priorities too. As student-athletes sometimes its easy to forget about the lives we live outside the locker room.

But thanks to my parents and the values they raised with me, I’ve made sure never to lose sight of my priorities and the order they need to line up in.

For me, it’s always been:

  1. Faith and Football
  2. Family and Football
  3. Football and Football

Some people call me a neat freak the way I try to keep everything in order, but without this discipline, I wouldn’t be able to handle my obligations and achieve everything I put my mind to.

And because I’ve maintained a discipline of my priorities, it has also opened up other opportunities as well.

Last year, our director of personnel came to me with the opportunity to be on the NCAA Football Oversight Committee. He knew that I could handle the extra responsibility, so he asked me to be one of only three football players in the country on the committee.

Its times like this that I’m extremely grateful I’ve had discipline instilled in me from a young age, and I can manage the extra responsibility. After all, these opportunities wouldn’t come without it.

Still, some people might view extra responsibility as negative. But for me, I just view it as another challenge. And with every challenge, I see a chance for me to grow.

That’s actually what I’ve tried to bring to our team this year as well.

If we just focus on making ourselves better as an individual both on and off the field, this mindset will transcend onto the field as a collective unit. And, if this collective unit adopts this mindset, all of our goals will be achievable

I’m just taking things one day at a time, but with this group, the closest group I’ve ever been around, I can’t wait to see where things end up.

Gary Jennings Jr. | Contributor

Wide Receiver, West Virginia University