Allen Kee/ESPN Images(NEW YORK) — Born into a family of athletes, Rashad Jennings had many aspirations as a kid, the biggest of which was playing running back in the NFL. Even at a young age, however, he realized his professional football dream was an uphill battle.
“I grew up an overweight, chubby kid, glasses, asthma, 0.6 GPA at one point in time. Fifth string [running back] who said ‘I want to play in the NFL,’” Jennings tells ABC News, “but a lot happened from point A to point B.”
Jennings grew up in Virginia and his two older brothers, Bryan and Butch, both had stints in the NFL. His mother did not want Rashad playing, knowing the physical toll it took on his brothers’ bodies. “Go on and be a lawyer or something,” she would tell him.
His asthma, which he says he “literally outran,” gave doctors reservations, and he was told by medical professionals it would be better if he did not play football, but he decided to continue playing anyway.
He recounts the first time he drew the attention of a college scout. His high school coaches were forced to play him due to injuries to several of his teammates. He starred, scoring touchdown after touchdown, but the college scout still rejected him, telling Jennings he needed to improve his grades to be a college athlete.
The fact that the scout recognized Jennings’ athletic potential, however, marked a turning point in his youth, one that drove him to focus improving on and off the field. It set him on the path to being a professional athlete.
It was his pursuit of this dream and other aspirations that inspired him to write his book The If in Life: How to Get Off Life’s Sidelines and Become Your Best Self, which was released May 8.
“The ‘Gold Jacket’ was never on my mind,” he tells ABC News, referring to the jacket players receive when they are elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame. He played eight years in the NFL, retiring in 2017, but says he was never driven to reach the hall of fame because he wants to be remembered as more than just a football player. If he is just a running back, Jennings says, he would consider that a “failure.”
That mindset is the theme of his book: taking joy in the pursuit, not just the accomplishment. Proving critics wrong, outrunning asthma, and keeping his eye on his dream are the “if’s” he highlights in his book: the turning points where he had to ask himself if he really wanted to continue pursuing his NFL dream. He did just that, and continues to ask himself those questions as he takes on new goals in his life.
When he joined ABC’s Dancing with the Stars, for instance, he liked the idea of learning new dance moves, but he wanted to excel and win the competition, which is exactly what he did.
Now, he is a published author, and hopes to be remembered in other ways as he moves on from his NFL career.
The book’s forward was written by former football player and ABC’s “Good Morning America” anchor Michael Strahan, which Jennings says is very fitting. He calls Strahan an “anomaly” because of the different things he has accomplished in his life.
Jennings says Strahan’s career inspires him, and Strahan tells Jennings that he too is inspired by the former New York Giant.
Although Strahan does have a gold jacket, Jennings wants to be remembered in the same way as his friend: a former football player who uses his professional career as a jumping point to do even more off the field.
Copyright © 2018, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.