Jeff Sentell/DawgNation
Jonas Jennings is on the road recruiting for UGA.

Past, present and future: Why Jonas Jennings matters so much to UGA

Jeff Sentell

Want to attack every day with the latest Georgia football recruiting info? That’s what the Intel will bring at least five days a week. We’ll use this space Thursday to discuss just how important Jonas Jennings, director of player development, is to UGA. 

If this space were known for baiting up a headline on the regular, we could magnetize clicks by dropping a “Power G” logo into the featured image slot and crank out: Who’s the most irreplaceable staff member at UGA?

The timing fits. The Bulldogs have lost two on-field coaches from the 2017 team, plus special teams analyst Scott Fountain. Those are the natural dings that follow an SEC championship team.

That conversation for the most irreplaceable staffer would include wide receivers coach James Coley, running backs coach Dell McGee, offensive line coach Sam Pittman and maybe even inside linebackers coach Glenn Schumann. Those guys are simply killing it on the recruiting trail.

In the end, my thought might just turn to Jonas Jennings, Georgia’s director of player development. I’m not sure if Kirby Smart and Georgia could ever find another Jennings.

Jonas Jennings-Georgia
Jonas Jennings seems to be an irreplaceable part of the program at Georgia. (Jeff Sentell/DawgNation)

Keshia Sandidge, the mother of 2018 elite defensive tackle target Rick Sandidge, made that very clear.

“He’s just very genuine,” Keshia Sandidge said. “He seems like he has walked the walk and earned the right to talk the talk. I can’t explain it any better than that. He’s genuine and it is very few and far between where you get that. You don’t get that a lot with this.”

That was evident to her when she met him.

“I only spent about five or 10 minutes with him and I told my husband that Jonas reminds me of me,” she said. “I can see him getting on Junior and being on Junior and making sure he was doing what he was supposed to do.”

Her thoughts align with what Aubrey Solomon’s mother, Sabrina Caldwell, always said about the lure to UGA during the 2017 cycle.

Jennings carries an offensive lineman’s view of his role. No matter what the website bio says.

“Man, I’m just Jonas,” Jennings said at the College Football Playoff media day this month. “… I’m the type of guy that does a lot but doesn’t really care about the credit.”

Rinse. Wash. Repeat. Georgia will send out those thousands of recruiting letters every week. Jennings will make a big impact in the minds of recruits. That’s as regular as that mail.

The UGA staff openings created a unique opportunity for Jennings this month. He took the NCAA-mandated test and is able to go on the road recruiting for the first time in this special situation.

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

That’s the man we saw actively chest-bumping Bulldogs before every game. It was no act.

Denzel Washington could not summon up the fire and energy Jonas has with the guys before a very big game.

He connects with a lot of young players.

“All I do is tell them the truth,” Jennings said. “I went to Georgia. I played at Georgia. Those avenues helped make me successful. From the avenue that I came from, which is south Atlanta and the projects down by the airport, the story just kind of writes itself.”

Do other schools have a Jonas? That was something both Keshia Sandidge and Sabrina Caldwell have said is very hard to find.

“Once you stick to the facts and connect the dots, it starts (in the projects of south Atlanta) and it ends here,” Jennings said. “That is the dream for a lot of kids. To go down the path that I did. Regardless of whether you came out of poverty and/or had that silver spoon. A lot of them want to go to college and go to the NFL ultimately.”

Why Jonas Jennings helps UGA every day

When I’m at recruiting all-star events or scouting showcases, it occasionally offers the opportunity to chat with a former NFL or SEC player who knows Jennings. When a player flashes in a drill, the following interaction often takes place afterward.

  • Former NFL guy: “Good looking kid. Where’s he going? 
  • Me: “Currently committed to Georgia. They’ve done a good job recruiting him.”
  • Former NFL guy: “Oh, he’s going to go play for Kirby and Jonas? That will be a good fit.”

I’ve held a conversation along those lines at least three different times over the last year.

Could a coach fill a staff opening created by top performers on game day and every recruiting day like McGee and Pittman? Maybe. It could possibly happen. It would just be tough.

But I’m not sure if Smart will ever see a résumé like the one on file on Jennings. Consider the following:

  • He came up out of a tough living environment in south Atlanta
  • Signed with and starred on the offensive line at UGA
  • Drafted in the third round by the Buffalo Bills in 2001
  • Played eight years in the NFL and wound up starting 75 games
  • Flourished off the field with charity work and philanthropy, giving back to his community
  • Also earned his master’s in business administration
  • Now works as the director of player development at UGA

What Jennings did beyond wearing a helmet matters a great deal now. The parents of those 4-and 5-star recruits want to see their sons on a “Jonas” path when the playing days are up, too.

“I also went and got my MBA,” he said. “So whether you want to go to school or extend your education is something that I can talk to these guys about and shine my life down that path, too. I just think that is very important with that sector of kids that come in that want scholarships that we recruit.”

Ponder that for a second. That guy, with that life, is on the road recruiting for UGA. He’ll do what he can to help the program nail down the nation’s No. 1 recruiting class for 2018.

If he makes a difference with that, he’d rather dodge the credit for that, too.

How Jonas Jennings fits into the big picture

There are coaches and staffers at UGA who teach technique, watch the film and sharpen up all the skills in a player’s toolbox. There are others who focus on strength and conditioning. The academic support, as well as the sports nutrition staples, are all big pieces to the puzzle.

Jennings shines his light on hearts and minds.

“I am life,” Jennings said. “Life coach. That’s my persona. Love. Some of them need to be loved on and some of them need hugging. But every situation is different. You’ve got 130 kids. All of those stories are written differently. You can’t treat them the same. You have to learn who they are and then they react to you based on that. If you invest in them and their lives, then they give it back.”

Jonas Jennings
Former Georgia player and current staff member Jonas Jennings will continue to have a big impact on players once they get on campus. (Jeff Sentell/DawgNation.com)

“It is just like investing your money in an annuity. If you annuitize it, then at some point you are able to draw back. It is no different with love.”

When we look at where UGA resides now in college football, it is a good lane. The big boys and the upper echelon. The Bulldogs staked the right to a seat at the big table this year, but have also brought in big gains on the recruiting trail that will keep them there.

“Coach Smart does a great job of extending the ‘Power G’ and making it more of a national symbol than it has been in a long time,” Jennings said. “So you will have kids from California and Texas and New York and Pennsylvania and North Carolina that want to come to Georgia. People like to go to where something is good. So if the football is that good and the life skills and the education here is that good for the parents and they really know what their kids will be getting into here, then at some time it becomes a no-brainer.”

“It is all about who is guiding your kid. At the end of the day, they only have so much eligibility in football. We’ve still got to flip them back into the real world as the best human beings and citizens we can.”

A few recruiting tidbits to get your read on

There’s always the everyday stream of information to keep up with in regard to recruiting, but I felt an overview (with quotes from Jennings this time) on his role in the program deserved to see this space this week.

He’s far more than just a charismatic former player in a support staff role.

But here are a few more prospect-oriented items in regard to the daily information flow.

  • Texas wide receiver Tommy Bush told DawgNation he expects an in-home visit from UGA receivers coach James Coley this week. Offensive coordinator Jim Chaney might show up, but he’s also been to see him the last two weeks. That tends to indicate the interest is still strong from the UGA staff. Bush also said he expects UGA coach Kirby Smart to use his in-home visit next week. 
  • Four-star outside linebacker Quay Walker met with Smart and inside linebackers coach Glenn Schumann at his school yesterday and then again at his home. He was talking to those two at school while his Alabama bookbag was strapped over his shoulders. 
  • I don’t see UGA as a player anymore for 5-star cornerback prospect Isaac Taylor-Stuart. The San Diego resident is still expected to take his official visit to Alabama this week. 
  • The big remaining official visitors for the 2018 class seem to be Texas 4-star safety Leon O’Neal, who is expected to visit this week, and then 4-star Michigan commit Otis Reese from Lee County, Ga. 

Miss any Intel? The DawgNation recruiting archive will get you up to speed just as fast as former Georgia All-America linebacker Roquan Smith found the ball after the snap.