NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Darius Jennings had waited 981 days for an opportunity.
And when he got it in the season opener on Sunday, the Titans return man made the most of it.
Jennings, who found out midweek he’d return kicks for the Titans, returned a kickoff 94 yards for a touchdown against the Dolphins. It was his first regular season game since the 2015 season in Cleveland, which seems like an eternity ago for the resilient pro.
“Guys who know my journey, they are happy for me,” Jennings said. “I came in on a high my rookie year, played some games, started some games. And since then I have just bounced around. Just to be back out there playing in my first game since 2015, it felt great. Guys who have known me for years and seen me work and continue to progress, they congratulated me. And I am thankful I had the opportunity.”
Jennings, who made the team’s 53-man roster after an impressive offseason, paid his dues to earn his shot in the spotlight. His career transaction list is long, and includes multiple stops in Cleveland, and time spent with the Bears, Jets, and Titans, on practice squads, and active rosters. He’s also been let go more times that he can count, and spent too much time watching games on TV.
“I have been cut more times than I have been signed in my career,” Jennings said.
His teammates love his fight, and resiliency. During the offseason, Jennings impressed teammates, coaches and spectators with his work at receiver.
The Tennessee Titans take on the Miami Dolphins in Week 1 of the 2018 season on Sunday, Sept. 9, 2018 at Hard Rock Stadium. (Photos: Donn Jones, AP)
“I have been impressed with Darius ever since I have been in here,” safety Kevin Byard said. “He has speed. … And myself especially, you always appreciate guys who are maybe underdogs -- they are hungry. I appreciate his effort every day.”
“He’s a competitor,” cornerback Adoree’ Jackson said of Jennings. “That’s one of the things you like about having guys who are willing to compete, and not afraid of competition. He’s a good guy, and a good teammate to have.”
Jennings, who played collegiately at Virginia and spent time on the team’s practice squad and active roster in 2017 but didn’t play in a game, provided a big boost to the Titans on Sunday.
After the Titans fell behind by two touchdowns, Jennings received a fourth quarter kickoff and raced past everyone for a score.
It was his first kickoff return for a touchdown since his senior year at Gilman (Md.) High School. He nearly returned a kickoff for a touchdown in college, but was tackled inside the 10 on a few occasions.
On Sunday, he was mobbed by his teammates after reaching the end zone.
“I was fortunate to get through,” Jennings said. “It felt natural, and I was grateful as well. … To have the opportunity to be back there, it was just great to be back on the field in the regular season, suited up.”
With a smile, Jennings said he’s faster now than he was back in 2010, when he returned two kicks for touchdowns in the first game of his senior year in high school.
“We only get better with age,” he said.
This season, he’s hoping to make an impact again and again, no matter how the Titans need him.
On Sunday, he said he was just doing his job.
“Whether it is offense or special teams, I have to do my one-11th,” Jennings said. “The 10 guys in front of me, they did a great job. It was just my job to take it to the crib.”