Bradley "Monster'' Jennings has risen from obscurity to become a defensive leader.
By BRIAN LANDMAN
© St. Petersburg Times, published November 1, 2000
TALLAHASSEE -- As he lined up for his first full-contact practice at Florida State a few years ago, Bradley Jennings hoped to make an impression.
Rest assured, everyone noticed the freshman middle linebacker.
Jennings plowed into would-be blockers with such ferocity that offensive linemen, reluctant to go one-on-one with the youngster, frantically counted to see when he would be up.
"They'd actually count; they'd go, "1-2-3, I'm the third one, I don't want to go against him,' and they'd move and let somebody else go," said former linebackers coach Chuck Amato, now coach at North Carolina State. "He'd knock the pants off of you."
That earned Jennings immediate attention from teammates and coaches. That earned him a respect usually reserved for upperclassmen who have excelled in games. And that earned him an everlasting nickname.
"(Former linebackers) Lamont Green and Demetro Stephens said I hit like a monster, and they just started calling me "Monster,' " Jennings said.
Jennings, a 6-foot-3, 230-pound redshirt junior, is in his second year as a starter. He has 71 tackles, second to star senior linebacker Tommy Polley (75), and is on pace to break his stellar sophomore season total of 94 stops.
" "Lenient' is not his forte," defensive coordinator Mickey Andrews said. "He doesn't put the helmet and pads on to look good. They're there for protection and to help him put a little discomfort on the opponent."
With freshmen taking over at defensive tackle this season, Jennings' presence and leadership have been linchpins of FSU's improved defensive play. The Seminoles are second in the country in rushing defense (average of 65.9 yards allowed) and eighth in total defense (274.6 yards), numbers that will be tested by a high-powered Clemson offense Saturday night.
Last season Jennings had his best games (double figures in tackles) against teams with mobile quarterbacks: North Carolina (Ronald Curry), Miami (Kenny Kelly) and Clemson (Woody Dantzler). In the Sugar Bowl, he sacked Virginia Tech escape artist Michael Vick twice.
Yet Jennings is largely overshadowed by Polley and senior Brian Allen, both of whom are semifinalists for the Butkus Award, given to the nation's top linebacker.
"He's not as flashy as those other guys, but I guarantee you that we're excited about him here just as much as those other guys," Andrews said. "Making big plays is great, but being dependable, doing your job, making the defense work, that's awfully important, too, and he's about as steady a man as we've got in that regard."
"I see it as my time will come," Jennings said. "My time will come."
Experience has taught him as much. Although he led Miami Carol City to a state title as a senior in 1996, he wasn't the most highly touted recruit in a world that craves a Lexus, not a Volvo. SuperPrep magazine, for one, listed him as the 60th-best prospect in Florida. Instead of calls from Miami and Florida, he got the most early attention from Western Michigan and Indiana.
Then Amato called. Choosing a school suddenly became a no-brainer.
"He's a smart football player and a solid leader," Amato said. "He's the fastest middle linebacker they've had there, maybe ever. He's disciplined. He's tough. He has great instincts, and he's got great vision. He's got it all."
And here's the scary part about "Monster." He's getting better.
Jennings, a quiet 22-year-old, is improving in pass coverage, making quicker reads, and breaking on the ball and the ball carrier faster.
"I'm not going to be satisfied no matter however I perform," he said. "That's just not me. Maybe sometimes I might be too hard on myself, but even if I make 30 tackles and 15 sacks in one game, I'm still going to feel I can do better."
Jennings still is looking for that perfect hit in college, the one that leaves an opponent woozy and in need of a few aspirin, if not smelling salts.
"Hey, that's why we call him "Monster,' " Polley said. "We don't call him that for nothing."