When senior Jackson Jennings graduates next week, it will be one more example of a student-athlete prospering after transitioning from a public school system to the private school setting offered at St. Ed’s.
Despite not being overjoyed about the prospect at the time, in the final analysis he was thankful that his parents made the right decision on his behalf.
“I was really shaky coming here for high school,” Jennings recalled. “I had a lot of friends that I had grown up with at Beachland (Elementary) and Gifford (Middle School). I had known those kids since I was 4 or 5 years old. So it was a really big change and one that I was not too sure about.
“But looking back on it, that was the best decision that my parents ever made for me, as well as for who I am today.”
Today this 17-year-old will soon be turning the tassel on that mortarboard and preparing to attend Florida Southern College in Lakeland. However, shortly after enrolling at St. Ed’s, it dawned on Jennings that an attitude adjustment was needed.
“My freshman year was not great academically, so I knew that I had to make some big changes. I really buckled down sophomore through senior years and started raising that GPA.”
Additionally, Jennings realized that he could branch out and try different sports at his new school. Baseball had been his primary athletic interest up to that point.
“I just wanted an opportunity to play more sports. I wanted to see what I was good at and where I could make a contribution.
“When I started playing football as a freshman I was 5-8, 120 pounds. That was a little scary. As the years went by I got bigger and stronger. I had to take my junior year off because of some concussion issues. But I felt that I could really make a difference on the team as a senior.
“I always wanted to see what I could do in basketball. I played the game frequently, but I had never practiced or been involved with any type of structured basketball until high school. I started in the JV program and made my way up to the varsity. I didn’t necessarily have a good shot, but I was athletic and quick. I could make plays with my hands and feet. I felt that I was good enough.”
Jennings branched out indeed. He played football for three seasons, and basketball for four. But baseball remained his favorite and it is on the agenda for college.
“Baseball is my true love. I’ve been a starter at shortstop, catcher or pitcher on the varsity since my freshman year. I just tried to go along with the flow the first two years, but as a junior and senior I took on more of a leadership role.
“I’m going to see what I can do at Florida Southern. I messed up my shoulder playing football, and I will need surgery to fix my labrum. Recovery will take about six weeks and then I can get back in the gym and start throwing. I should be ready to go in the fall.
“I may have to start on the JV and work my way up. I believe that I’m good enough to the point that my skills and talents can take me to the next level – and be successful at it.”
Every sport turned into a rewarding experience for Jennings.
Football is nearly a constant slog from spring to fall, and this final year became a treasured opportunity to solidify bonds with the other three seniors on the team – Payton Cleveland, Logan Reimsnyder and Edward Klinsport. In basketball the same dynamic was shared with Andrew MacIntyre, Spencer Lindenthal and Brandon Succes. Jennings said all of these guys are now his brothers.
“But the best relationships were made on the baseball team. I have been playing baseball with Michael Mangieri, Will Miller and Aidan Taylor since I was a freshman and they were in seventh grade. I’ve had the opportunity to see them grow as players and people. The last game was really bittersweet. Those guys are my closest friends.”
For the archives, the Pirates won that finale to finish 5-7 after starting out 0-5. For the season, Jennings hit .323 and slugged the only homer for the team. His OPS was 1.133.
The academic plan consists of a major in criminology and perhaps adding a minor in sports management. He leaves for Lakeland confident that his education at St. Ed’s was high-quality preparation for the challenges ahead. But there was more to it than that.
“Everything here is about making connections and building friendships. My experiences at St. Edward’s have given me memories that will last forever.”