Rashad Jennings spent the second half of his first season with the New York Giants fighting his way back onto the field despite injuries, first to a knee and then to an ankle. Why did Jennings push so hard to play when he wasn't nearly 100 percent and when the Giants' season had already gone south, the team playing out the string on a playoff-less, losing season?
Jennings said Friday it was "huge for me to find a way to get on the field" despite the circumstances.
"It was important for me to find a way on the field, playing through injury. I'm earning the respect of my teammates always. I feel that's important. I want to be able to demand more out of my players, more out of my teammates next year. The only way you put yourself in a position to do that is by earning their respect," Jennings said.
"Allowing my teammates to see I'm not packing this thing up, first in, last out every day. I'm right here beside Eli working, preparing, coaching, helping out Andre, being an energy ball. Also teaching the young guys how to finish.
"I came here with the mindset to be a leader, and that's behind the scenes doing the right things, too."
Jennings, in his sixth season, had the most carries of his career in 2014, toting the rock 137 times. He gained 639 yards, the second-highest total of his career, averaging 3.8 yards per carry.
Tom Coughlin will return as Giants head coach next season, meaning Ben McAdoo will be back as offensive coordinator and the Giants get to continue the process of growing into the new scheme McAdoo installed in 2014. Jennings is looking forward to the opportunity.
"When you're able to have consistency, when you're lining up in OTAs and not trying to figure out where to line up but you already know and you're making calls and the quarterback's making adjustments and you're moving on the fly it makes a drastic difference. Then you allow everybody's talent just to kind of take over," Jennings said.
"We get to grow, work on our craft and not just try to figure out the Xs and Os. It's exciting, definitely. It's a godo vibe in the locker room and being under the leadership of Tom Coughlin again. Tremendous coach, we all love playing for him. It's definitely an arrow up with the Giants organization."
Jennings will be 30 in 2015, an age where running backs are generally considered to be in decline. A 2009 seventh-round pick by the Jacksonville Jaguars, the past two seasons have been the best of his career. Like fine wine, he seems to be getting better with age.
"I've always beaten odds and I've always been a late-bloomer," Jennings said. "The way I learned as a young runner, as a young pro, how to take care of my body, how to study the game, those types or things are reasons why I'm just now entering my prime.
"I sleep in a hyperbaric oxygen chamber, do MAT, acupuncture, chiropractic care, massage, yoga, do all these little things that work."
You can't really talk to Jennings without talking about the many things he does off the field. Much like Giants' punter Steve Weatherford, Jennings is generous with his time away from the game, especially in giving back to kids. Go to his web site and you see little about football. Check out the work of his foundation and you learn more about the man.
"I don't take any of this for granted. It's true when I said I was like that little short kid, overweight with glasses and asthma and a .6 GPA average. I'm not supposed to be here, man," Jennings said. "It goes back to me never taking it for granted and understanding the platform that I have. Kids are sponges to the information we have to give. For me I understand there's not anything special about me, I'm just in a special position. I feel it's a duty and obligation to society for being a professional athlete to give back to communities, to leave the world a better place and leave a legacy that will outlive me."
Jennings was available for interviews on Friday because he was promoting the Verizon #WhosGonnaWin program. Visit WhosGonnaWin.com to learn the details of the program, a fun way to predict who will win each game leading up to the Super Bowl and have fun at the expense of friends and neighbors at the same time.