Rashad Jennings’ story is well-known to anyone who’s ever watched an NFL football game or ABC’s “Dancing with the Stars.”
An overweight fifth-stringer on his high school football team with a 0.6 GPA, Jennings caught the eye of a scout when he finally got his chance to play. He was also told to get his grades up if he wanted to be a pro player.
To say he took that advice to heart is an understatement. Jennings changed schools, applied himself, discovered a love of learning, and eventually became a star player in the NFL, playing for the Jacksonville Jaguars, Oakland Raiders, and New York Giants.
Not satisfied to rest on his NFL achievements, he was a contestant on “Dancing with the Stars” in 2017, winning the Mirror Ball Trophy. He published his inspirational book “The IF in Life: How to Get Off Life’s Sidelines and Become Your Best Self” last year and became a certified best-seller.
This year he’s launching a series of novels called “The Coin Slot Chronicles” (“Arcade and the Triple T Token,” “Arcade and the Golden Travel Guide,” and Arcade and the Fiery Metal Tester”), aimed at helping kids navigate the challenges of life while inspiring reluctant readers to love books.
Jennings doesn’t see his unbroken string of success as anything but the results of hard work, and he pushes back on notions that some people are simply born with special gifts.
“There’s nothing special about me,” he said. “Success is the fire drawn from your own flame. Without a love and dedication for hard work, I wouldn’t have gotten to where I am today.”
After playing in the NFL and being on one of reality television’s biggest shows, Jennings is used to being famous, but he sees fame merely as an opportunity to help others achieve their goals.
“It’s truly humbling to be in this position and to have the opportunity to inspire others to achieve their dreams,” he said. “I thank God every day to have such amazing people inspired by my story — they inspire me in the same way.”
When asked how people can follow his example and achieve their dreams, his answer is simple: “Anything is possible if you really work for it!”
Every day is gameday
Hard work is a recurring theme for Jennings; it’s the not-so-secret ingredient he sees in all his success. A key part of that work ethic is powering through problems and obstacles.
“Never give up, no matter how far-fetched something is,” he advised. “If you want something, strive for it and go get it. Put the work in, don’t let anything stop you.”
At the same time, Jennings warns that you can’t just put effort in blindly and expect results.
“Make Plan B to get to Plan A,” he said. “Be prepared, because when the opportunity presents itself, it’s too late to prepare for it. Practice like every day is gameday.”
As a professional athlete, Jennings knows that the drive to win can sometimes take over, but stresses that enjoying what you’re doing is more important, something he thinks gets lost when people take sports too seriously.
“For American sports fans — it’s just a game my friends!” he laughed. “To play the game of football means we’re having fun doing what we love.
“That’s a message to everyone. Do what you love no matter what it is. Life is a game, so have fun while you’re living it. The rest will fall into place.”
Jeff Somers, [email protected]