After a seven-year career in the NFL, former New York Giants running back Rashad Jennings has embarked on a new journey. The ever-humble 33-year-old from Forest, Virginia has accomplished his dream of playing on the highest level of football in this country and now has crossed off another goal of his list by writing his first book, The If in Life: How to Get Off Life’s Sidelines and Become Your Best Self.
Jennings’ new book, The If in Life, hits stores on May 8, giving an insight to those looking for inspiration from an athlete who was able to defy the odds throughout his entire life.
The first-time author recently spoke with ClutchPoints about his new book as well as his NFL career and his thoughts on some of the league’s current stars, like Odell Beckham Jr., Leonard Fournette, and Giants rookie Saquon Barkley.
Ryan Ward: Did you always want to write a book?
Rashad Jennings: Absolutely, yes. I’ve always wanted to write a book. Actually, I was just laughing, I was talking to one of my high school friends. The fact that it is going to be in Barnes & Noble bookstores on May 8. We always used to go in Barnes & Noble and I would sit around and read books, and I used to tell my friend, “I’m going to write a book one day.”
We used to laugh. Well, they used to laugh. I was serious. I wanted to write a book, and I’ve always said since my rookie year in the NFL, I used to tell people I’m going to write a book one day and it is going to be called, The If in Life. It is going to be a play-on-words because “if” is the foundation of the word “life.” It’s the life we all live, so I’m going to extract that one word and talk about all my ifs that I’ve been through to get me to this point.
It took a while to get into a position to where that was a reality, but I think we spoke that one into existence.
A lot of people, including your coaches and your father, doubted you would make it as a running back. So what drove your determination?
RJ: To prove somebody wrong. It was really that simple. Tell me what I can’t do, and I just want to go prove you wrong. Nothing more, nothing less than that. Other than, also, I aspired to be like my brothers who were successful in the sport of football.
They both were loving people. Those are two of my heroes. I didn’t have to look far from the house to find somebody to look up to and that I wanted to emulate. The fact that they played ball and I hated when somebody tells me something I can’t do. Made a living off of it. Still do now.
When was the moment that you realized that all your hard work had paid off?
RJ: Honestly, I feel like that moment happens all the time. I’m always recognizing it. I recognized it today. When I found myself having a conversation or attempting to break down new barriers or being the first from my family to accomplish something. I’m always realizing that hard work pays off. Never was there a point where one day I was like that’s it, I always come back to it.
It happens all the time. From when I got drafted. I realized when I graduated high school that hard work pays off. I realized it the first time I caught my first pitch. As silly as it sounds, I realize it about playing the guitar. I realized hard work paid off on Dancing With The Stars when I won. We put in 362 hours. It was recorded 100 more hours than any other contestant on the show, so it’s always reiterated to me that hard work pays off.
In your book, you talk about remembering your why. What does that mean? What does your why mean?
RJ: Your why is your purpose and drive. It’s a combination, and when they match up, beautiful things happen to people. When I say beautiful things happen to people, it doesn’t mean in the realm of a bank account. It means how you begin to maneuver through life. My why coincides with my purpose.
To me, it’s two things. One, explaining what my why is, but explaining what a “why” is in general. I feel like the why is that thing that makes a person stay a little bit longer at work. A why is what makes somebody set their alarm clock a little bit earlier. Somebody’s why is what makes them do extra.
The 2018 NFL Draft is officially in the books. You were a 7th round pick. What is it like battling through that kind of adversity of being taken that low where the odds are kind of against you to have a successful NFL career?
RJ: I never knew any different. I’ve always had the odds against me, so I don’t know what it is like to be on top. But with that, regardless of where you’re drafted, first, second, third, seventh, free agent…all it is, is an opportunity. That’s it.
You’re in the door. You got to go start over. You got to earn the right. Earn the respect, just like every single year, of your teammates and of your coaches. You’ve got to go prove it to yourself, and you’ve got to remember that every single year there’s a new draft class that’s trying to take your job.
Coaches in the NFL are not looking at you or evaluating you for reasons to pick you. They’re not evaluating you for reasons to keep you on the team. They’re evaluating you to get rid of you. They’re always trying to figure out, how can I get rid of this person? Never, how can I keep them?
You’re always in competition.
You played for three different teams during your NFL career. What was your favorite stop, and why?
RJ: I loved them all. I really did. Jacksonville became a home to me. That was my first team. That was the first organization that gave me a chance and believed in me. I owe a lot to that. I’m humbled by that.
Oakland. They had welcoming arms. Great fanbase. I got MVP of the team. Offensive player of the year on the team, so obviously I loved it there. And then in New York, I’m in the mecca of everything. It’s the best organization arguably in the league. I got to play under the leadership of coach [Tom] Coughlin, who is going to be a Hall of Famer, and it’s New York.
I’m from Forest, Virginia. It’s a small town. I transferred to a private school for the ’99 graduating class then I graduated from Liberty University. Small. Then I go to Jacksonville. It’s a bigger area. Then I go to Oakland. It’s pretty big. Then I go to New York. It’s huge. I didn’t come straight from Forest, Virginia to New York. I was eased into a lot of things, so I’m appreciative of that. I’m honored to play for all organization, but obviously, I retired as a Giant on purpose. I’ll let you figure out what that means [laughs].
The Giants appear to have brought in their running back of the future in Saquon Barkley. What do you think of the Penn State product? What advice would you give him?
RJ: I think he’s going to be great. Two months ago, I predicted, I tweeted it, I said he was going to be Rookie of the Year. I can’t wait to take a screenshot of that tweet when he wins.
My advice to him from what I’ve seen on the outside, he has a work ethic; don’t lose it. Don’t stop doing the little things that got you to where you’re at. Know that God gives, God can take. Stay humble. Always expect adversity. Never get too high. Never get too low. Stay tunnel vision, but have fun. Never stop having fun, and constantly go back to what got you here and keep that as only the foundation.
That doesn’t mean that you stop. That’s just your foundation. Continue to grow. And I always tell people, there’s a difference between being an NFL athlete and being a pro athlete, and you don’t want to be an NFL athlete.
NFL athletes are the guys that got boo koo amounts of talent that’s undeniable, uncomparable that comes in the league and lasts a year or two. A pro is somebody that NFL legends, a community of men, I believe it’s close to 12,000 men that have played. There’s 1,000’s of names you don’t even know. You never know who they are, but they were true pros. Pros are the guys that can come in, learn a craft. Own a craft. Study a craft. Perfect a craft. Play eight-nine years and you didn’t even know his name. And you wonder how they do that because they were true pros. Athletes just come in, and they’re just good, but pros last.
You played with Odell Beckham Jr. for one season. What is Beckham like and would you consider him to be the best wideout in the NFL today, or at least in the conversation?
RJ: No doubt. Odell should definitely be in the conversation anytime you talk about the best receiver in the NFL today. And if you’re not, I don’t know what you’re doing.
He’s a tremendous player. When he first came into the league, he was hurt. He missed the first four games. I don’t know if people realize that. When he was hurt for those first four games, he came up to me in the locker room and said, ‘Rashad, teach me how to take care of my body.’
I went out early before practice and I always did a warmup. I would always eat right. Sleep in a hyperbaric chamber. I would do all these things, and he wanted to learn, so he started coming out with me. We start building a relationship. Every day he would do my warmup. Strap it up. I watched him. Literally, I watched a kid come into the league, nobody really knew him to that level. I watched a kid run his first slant route and dropped the ball. And I said, “Man, I’ve never seen a kid miss a ball so smooth.” Like, even his mistakes were incredible. Just, you don’t see this.
He finally got his first game against Atlanta and tore it up, and I watched a kid become a sensation and a celebrity over the three years that I was there. I watched the interviews change. I watched people around him change. I watched a lot of things happen. I got to witness this whole Odell Beckham Jr. legend sprout. I was there in the locker room watching his Instagram followers going from one million then practice is over, and it said two million. I was there. Witnessed it.
I’ve never seen Odell change. He’s always been an energetic guy. He’s always been a passionate guy. He’s always had a crazy work ethic. He practices a certain way. He has fun with life. The camera loves him. The camera is absolutely obsessed with Odell, so I laugh because I hear people say, “Is he a problem?” He’s not a problem at all [laughs]. People are problems [laughs].
Who do you believe is the best running back in the NFL right now?
RJ: [David] Johnson from Arizona [Cardinals]. Then I would say [Le’Veon] Bell. If I had to take a running back, I would take Johnson, then Bell.
What do you think about the new rule change where lowering the helmet is a penalty? How does that impact a running back?
RJ: It’s good. You want to keep everybody healthy. I was an NFL player rep for five years in the league. That was something we fought for, and something we fought for was to be more knowledgeable of our injuries and cause and effect of playing the game. You want it to be as safe as possible. You want people to be walking around at 40 years old still smiling and playing with their kids, so I’m all for it.
You played for the Raiders and now the team is going through some drastic changes, including a move to Las Vegas. What did you think of the franchise during your time in Oakland and do they have a bright future under Jon Gruden?
RJ: Yeah, they do have a bright future. I think Jon is going to do some things for the team to not only bring his expertise but have a certain spark and excitement.
I do think, being in Vegas, somebody is going to mess up at some point. It is what it is, but people mess up in Kansas City. I don’t think it’s going to be more of an issue than any other team has, but I think it’s going to be highlighted like crazy.
What are your thoughts on the Jaguars recent resurgence and do you believe that Leonard Fournette is the real deal?
RJ: He’s a monster.
So I’m in a pool with some of my friends. What we do before the season started, we put a pool of money in it, and we predicted who was going to be in the Super Bowl. If you win, you get the money. If you don’t, the money goes to charity. I predicted that the Super Bowl was going to be Philly playing against Jacksonville. That was before any preseason games started. I was so mad. I was pissed.
Jacksonville, pound-for-pound, is the best team in the NFL. I think people don’t recognize that. Not only because they don’t play on national television, but because of the quarterback play not being up to par to most people’s liking. They can’t recognize how good that team is.
Jacksonville is great. Plus, they got my guy back down there, coach Coughlin. He’s in the mix. I think that makes a difference.
Dancing With The Stars is back with plenty of athletes this time around. Who do you think has the best chance of winning out of the athletes?
RJ: That’s tough. I think Alan’s partner is pretty good. Jenna’s partner is pretty good. I think the final four is probably going to be Jenna’s partner [Adam Rippon]. Alan’s partner [Mirai Nagasu]. Keo’s partner [Jennie Finch Daigle], and Sharna, which is Josh Norman.
Mentoring and helping youth is really important to you and is the focus of The Rashad Jennings Foundation. Why is it important to you to invest and give back in that way?
RJ: I always tell people there’s nothing special about me. I just found myself in a special position, and anytime I get to unmask myself and be a magnifying glass toward things I believe are important, I should do that.
If I didn’t have people believe in me before I knew who I was, I wouldn’t be having this interview with you, that’s for sure. I needed mentors. I needed people to kick me in the butt. I needed people to not change me, but guide me in the right direction, so that’s what I do through my foundation.
I struggled academically. I was an overweight, chubby kid with a 0.6 GPA talking about I want to play in the NFL [fifth-string running back], so I obviously overcame a lot of hurdles and a lot of obstacles, and because I had authentically done that, now I get to authentically teach it’s not cookie-cutter. I’m not giving a fairy tale life. I really shouldn’t be in the positions I find myself in, so I want to teach as many kids as I possibly can. One, how, but also give encouragement that it is possible. So that’s what I do through my foundation.