Looks Like University Of Illinois - Terrell Jennings
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I can't not start with the Minnesota State thing. Jennings transferred in from Minnesota State, and for someone my age or older, hearing "Minnesota State" makes you think "isn't that the fake college football program from the TV show Coach?"
It is, but it isn't. When the show aired (1989 to 1997), there was no Minnesota State. But since then, Mankato State University changed their name to "Minnesota State University, Mankato" and then just "Minnesota State." So yes, for Coach they made up the "Minnesota State Screamin' Eagles" but now there's an actual Minnesota State (they're not the Screamin' Eagles, though - they're the Mavericks).
See now I feel like I need to describe "Coach" for you young kids. And then you're going to say "how is this in any way related to Terrell Jennings transferring from Minnesota State to Illinois?" and I won't have an answer other than "Jerry Van Dyke was from Danville and the lead character Hayden Fox was based on Hayden Fry who was Bret Bielema's college coach."
Coach was set at Minnesota State. The head coach, Hayden Fox, was played by Craig T. Nelson. Jerry Van Dyke played the best character, Luther, one of his assistant coaches. And then there was the big dumb Dauber who would do Big Dumb Guy stuff and you'd laugh (somewhat uncomfortably if you were a Big Dumb Guy). Coach also had a daughter, played by Clare Carey, who arrived near the end of my "TV/Movie crush" continuum which spanned from Alyssa Milano in Who's The Boss through Lucy Deakins in The Great Outdoors and then phased out around the time of "Coach" and Kelly Fox.
Had I realized at the time that the creator of the show was a big Iowa fan who created a fake University to look like Iowa (with the exterior campus shots on the show coming from Iowa's campus), I would have liked it 59% less. But this was 1989, and there was really no way to know (or research) and of that, so I just enjoyed a laugh-track comedy centered around college football and a Big Dumb Guy. If you're my age, you'll probably get Those Were The Days feelings from this photo:
OK, now we can talk about Terrell Jennings. I received a request this week to put some basic data in these LLUOI articles (a very good suggestion since I sometimes start talking about a player and you don't even know if he's a cornerback or a tight end), so here's the basics:
HS: Pine Creek High School in Colorado
Transfer from: Minnesota State
Height/Weight: 6'-1", 190 lbs.
Eligibility: 1 to play 1
His was a very interesting football journey to follow on his Twitter feed. After digging around for a while, I found this article which filled in some of the gaps. The photo at the top comes from that article. That's Jennings (on the left) with the Domann brothers. JoJo Domann (on the right) played at Nebraska and was 2nd Team All Big Ten this past season. As the article states, Jennings and Brock Domann won a state title together at Pine Creek HS in 2016.
Here's what the article says about Jennings' college football career:
A cornerback, Jennings had a solid freshman year at Santa Barbara City College in the fall of 2017, which earned him a scholarship to the University of North Dakota, a Division I FCS school. He played in three games for the Fighting Hawks his sophomore year in 2018, and then redshirted last season. Sensing North Dakota may not be the best long-term fit, he transferred to Minnesota State earlier this year.
So now I can build one of those eligibility charts like I did with Isaiah Adams:
2017: 5 to play 4 coming in, played a season at Santa Barbara City College
2018: 4 to play 3, plays in three games for North Dakota
2019: 3 to play 2, redshirts the season at North Dakota
2020: Transfers to Minnesota State, Division II season canceled due to Covid, no eligibility used
2021: 2 to play 2, plays in 10 games for Minnesota State
2022: 1 to play 1, will be used at Illinois
I guess technically you could say he used his redshirt in 2018 because he only played in three games, but you can only redshirt once so then 2019 would have counted towards eligibility instead. Either way, he now arrives at Illinois as a one-to-play-one guy.
The fairly obvious question here: what is the benefit to adding a cornerback from a Division II school for one season? Well, the need is there. Tony Adams graduated and, while Taz Nicholson will likely take his spot opposite Devon Witherspoon, there's no clear successor (like, say, Seth Coleman taking over for Isaiah Gay at OLB). Even if Nicholson does win the spot, every backup is either a redshirt freshman or a true freshman. So experienced depth was needed. And the staff looked at all of the cornerbacks in the portal and settled on this Division II cornerback from Minnesota State.
My first thought here was that he was maybe the conference defensive player of the year at Minnesota State or something - a guy clearly ready to jump over FCS and G5 schools all the way to a P5 school. But that is not what I found. Here's the NSIC All-Conference team from last season. They name a first and second team from both the North Division and South Division, but Jennings doesn't appear on either team.
So that makes this one a bit of a head-scratcher. There are a lot of the rungs on the ladder between Division II cornerback and Big Ten cornerback. Like, this is a player who was at North Dakota for two years, only played in three games across those two seasons, and transferred down to Division II. And now he's transferring from Division II all the way to a Power Five team?
Think of that in terms of players who transferred out last summer. Let's use Blaise Sparks. He wasn't in the two-deep at Illinois so he entered the transfer portal and transferred down to Delaware (FCS) in search of playing time. Now imagine if you heard that he transferred from Delaware to LSU. Wait, the guy who dropped down a level to find playing time is now transferring up six rungs on the ladder? If Sparks really started to put it together at Delaware and wanted to test himself at a higher level, that higher level is likely some G5 school like Akron or Louisiana-Monroe, not all the way up to LSU.
There's not much Minnesota State film on Jennings, so I have to lean heavily into "he didn't play at North Dakota and transferred down" when deciding on my Tom Cruise grade. It's just very odd to me that we looked past all of the Power Five cornerbacks in the portal, past all the Group of Five cornerbacks in the portal, and even past all of the FCS cornerbacks in the portal, landing instead on a Division II cornerback. If there was a player in Division II who was ready to jump that far, you'd expect that he's one of the better players in all of Division II. But Jennings wasn't named to the All Conference team for the NSIC South Division (but Minnesota State's other cornerback was).
I'm not saying all of this to slam the kid. Good for him for sending out his tape and landing a Power Five scholarship. I'd love for our 2022 season to include a story about a Division II corner who came out of nowhere and solidified our secondary. But the lack of even all-conference recognition (eight cornerbacks were selected from the NSIC conference and Jennings was not one of them) has me wondering what the coaches might have seen here.
I did find some Minnesota State tape. He put together this highlight video and put it out on Twitter. Let's watch it and then talk about it.
I’ll frown for a 100 years as long as my momma smiling…. pic.twitter.com/FhfcJkvO5g— RELLO (@BLUESTRIPRELLO_) January 4, 2022
Wait, you just skipped the entire video. I totally saw you do that. Come on, it's only 1:54 long.
OK fine, just drag the slider bar to 1:10 and we'll talk about the last seven plays:
1:10 - This one might be the best play on film. The ankle tackle is super extremely important when you're a corner. Sometimes, you're the difference between six yards and 36 yards. You have to be able to drop someone like this. Great play.
1:19 - Solid play. This isn't anything that's going to make a coaching staff say "hey, now here's something" - this is just what's expected of a corner. Get a hand on the ball without a PI penalty.
1:24 - I'm not sure I can tell what happens here. The receiver caught it but it was out of bounds? Very had to see.
1:30 - He never takes his eyes off the tailback so I'm guessing this was third and short and he had some kind of "key on the run here" call. Bet he's happy the tailback didn't bounce it outside, though.
1:34 - Really like the active feet while reading here. Then a very simple dive at the lower legs. Well done.
1:40 - Another one-on-one win that saves 20+ yards. I'm ready to give him a good grade in the run game. Maybe he can be one of those early-down cornerbacks who acts like an extra linebacker, ducking under blocks and making plays on the edges?
1:45 - Yet another open field ankle tackle.
See now I'm realizing that the first half of his film was "plays I made in the passing game" and the second half is "plays made against the run", so all I did there was review running plays plus one PBU. But still, of the full 1:54, the best plays, by far, are against the run.
Jennings will have one season in which to prove himself. The corners in the spring game lined up like this:
Devon Witherspoon (JR) | DD Snyder (rs-FR)
Taz Nicholson (SO) | Tyler Strain (rs-FR)
So the task for Jennings is likely to try to become the third corner in front of Strain and Snyder who, as redshirt freshmen, might not be ready yet. There's not really a slot corner spot in this defense (that goes to Quan Martin and Tailon Leitzsey at the STAR position), so Jennings will be fighting with the true freshmen and Snyder/Strain for third cornerback. And maybe even pressing Taz Nicholson for snaps.
I think this staff likes Strain and wants to get him ready sooner rather than later. And I know the staff loves true freshman Elijah Mc-Cantos (although they might be prepping him to play Quan Martin's position). So it's going to be really difficult for Jennings to break into that rotation at corner. Especially since he's making the leap from D-II to P5.
But hey, Fej jumped from NAIA to the NFL Draft (albeit by walking-on first), so maybe Jennings can make another "from out of nowhere to anchor in the secondary" leap. Better do it quick, though. His college career ends in November. (Well, hopefully December.)
The Division II thing plus the fact that the other cornerback on his team was named all-conference but he wasn't means I have to go very low with Cruises here. The last time I wrote one of these "I'm not sure I understand the reach here?" it was for WR Desmond Dan. I gave him 1 Cruise, he was here two years and didn't play, and now he's gone. Hopefully Jennings can get on the field but... it will take a very large leap to go from covering a Bemidji State wide receiver to covering a Wisconsin wide receiver. I'll add a quarter-Cruise to the rating I gave Desmond Dan (for the solid ankle-tackles above) and go with...
Terrell Jennings - One and one-quarter Tom Cruises