Meet UGA’s ‘secret weapon’ for recruiting in-state players

UGA Director of Player Development Jonas Jennings (left) was a very strong under-the-radar move made by Kirby Smart when he took over as Georgia coach.

Jonas Jennings grew up in College Park, Ga., and graduated from Tri-Cities High School. He played tackle at UGA from 1997-2000 and could play any spot on the offensive line.

Jennings played with Quincy Carter (right) on former coach Jim Donnan’s final team in 2000. (T. Levette Bagwell / AJC file photo)

He was an honorable mention All-America selection and also named to various All-SEC teams. He was drafted in the third round of the 2001 NFL Draft by the Buffalo Bills and finished out his pro career with the San Francisco 49ers in 2008.

Those elements are easily found on the bio for Jennings on the UGA website. Jennings has also served as a player relations coordinator in 2015 and was promoted by Kirby Smart to Director of Player Development in January.

A prominent Atlanta coach has another title for him, though. Hapeville Charter Academy football coach Winston Gordon called Jennings a “secret weapon” for UGA when it comes to recruiting Metro Atlanta.

“I look to him as an unsung guy on that staff,” Gordon said. “Jonas Jennings is an intricate part of the Georgia recruiting to link all these kids in Metro Atlanta to Georgia. Kirby can sell it all he wants, but when an Atlanta kid comes to Georgia and sees Jonas then that man can be his closer.”

That was a strong behind-the-scenes move Smart made early in his tenure. The former Bulldogs star is not on the recruiting trail pitching the program to these kids. He is not an on-field coach or an area recruiter. He blends among all the friendly faces on the staff whenever a top prospect visits Athens. Well, as much as a former NFL lineman possibly can.

Jennings (left middle) was joined by former Bulldogs Champ Bailey (far left) and Todd Gurley (middle right) and Boss Bailey (far right) at a recent UGA game on the sidelines. (Jonas Jennings / Twitter)

Yet he’s more than that. Jennings brings a respect factor as a product of Atlanta who played ball, went to UGA, lived the dream and reached the NFL.

Smart thought Jennings was so valuable to the Bulldogs that the program nearly tripled his salary to keep him after Mark Richt was let go.

“You just don’t know how well respected the name Jonas Jennings is around Atlanta,” Gordon said. “He’s from College Park and went to Tri-Cities and played eight years in the NFL and then came back and gave of himself to his community. That’s real right there. That’s a real man.”

When his playing days ended, he returned to College Park. Jennings held football camps, fed families during Thanksgiving, volunteered at his high school and other philanthropic efforts. He even served as defensive coordinator at his old high school for two seasons.

Jennings received his MBA degree from George Washington in 2012. That’s important because he can touch every facet of what a football scholarship can mean to an Atlanta kid.

“These Atlanta kids can look at Jonas and see all he is and what he is about and see he can really relate to them,” Gordon said. “He’s so personable when he speaks to these kids. I think Jonas on that staff makes it easy for Georgia to get all these kids from the inner city of Atlanta. He came up out of the same place and made it. He can tell them they can do the same and mean it. It won’t be a sales pitch. It will be the truth.”

Gordon is the coach of four-star senior cornerback William Poole III. Poole is one of the top commitments on the board for UGA in 2017.

Jeff Sentell covers UGA football and UGA recruiting for and The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Follow him on Twitter for the latest on who’s on their way to play Between the Hedges. Unless otherwise indicated, player rankings and ratings are from the 247Sports Composite. 


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