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Jennings coming up big with Lakers

Posted Sunday, September 27, 2009 by Ed Dalton

College Notebook: Jennings coming up big with Lakers

9/24/2009 3:32 AM

Ben Jennings has tried to measure up to other people's expectations since he began playing football.

For the past four seasons, Jennings, a senior at Mercyhurst College and a Trinity High School graduate, has fought hard to earn a starting tailback spot at Mercyhurst College.

Jennings had to show skeptical coaches to look past his diminutive stature. Not many college coaches start 5-7, 180-pound running backs unless they are sure the football will be in good hands.

Jennings finally earned that distinction thanks to a lot of hard work and determination. He will be the starter Saturday when the Lakers travel to Lock Haven for a 2 p.m. start.

Last week, Jennings scored the go-ahead touchdown in Mercyhurst's 20-16 upset win against Indiana.

"I feel like I proved myself to the coaches," said Jennings. "It's been a gradual thing."

Jennings has not had the easiest road. He gradually earned playing time, seeing action in 10 games last season and averaging 5.8 yards per carry and scoring four rushing touchdowns. Jennings sat behind Richard Stokes, who became Mercyhurst's all-time leading rusher (3,381 yards).

"Early in his career, we asked if he could play every play and take the pounding," said Mercyhurst head coach Marty Schaetzle. "He plays a lot bigger than he is. He's only 180 pounds but he's tough and explosive."

Jennings has rushed for 250 yards and scored four touchdowns in four games for the Lakers (2-2). Gerald Anderson, who is also 5-7, spells Jennings. Anderson has rushed for 174 yards and scored twice.

"I've always had high expectations for myself," Jennings said. "I have high expectations with this team. I've been preparing for this the past three years."

Jennings will have a homecoming when Mercyhurst visits California Oct. 31. The Lakers played the Vulcans tough in a 17-6 loss in Erie last season.

"When he was in last year, we didn't miss a beat," Schaetzle said. "He's got a different style and has good vision. His size doesn't earn him style points but it works to his advantage. He understands the running game before the ball is snapped and what might happen. Coaches like that in a player."

Clarion at California: For the first time this season, California's offense played as advertised during a 52-10 victory over Gannon last week. The Vulcans want to do it again this week with a home game against Clarion in their PSAC opener.

Quarterback Josh Portis completed 17 of 26 passes for 262 yards and five touchdowns. Most important, he did not throw an interception. A.J. Jackson caught eight of those passes for 119 yards and three touchdowns. And Cody Wilson and Freddie Bacco combined for 120 yards on 21 carries and one TD.

Clarion also has a 2-2 record and is coming off a 24-0 shutout of Lock Haven. Clarion relies on the arm of quarterback Tyler Hunter, who has completed 56 percent of his passes for 935 yards and five touchdowns. The running game has produced just 496 yards.

Wash & Jeff at Grove City: In the final of four straight night games, Washington & Jefferson travels to Grove City, where a standing-room-only crowd is expected at Robert E. Thorn Field.

W&J (1-0, 3-0) is coming off a 56-16 rout of Thiel in a game that appears to have cemented a two-quarterback system for the Presidents.

Gino Rometo and Steven Shumaker each played well, combining for 307 yards and five touchdowns.

"Both will play quite a bit," said W&J head coach Mike Sirianni. "It will depend on the series and situation. Both did good things (against Thiel)."

Grove City (1-0, 1-2) has one of the top weapons in the Presidents' Athletic Conference in South Fayette graduate Andrew DiDonato. The record-setting senior quarterback has thrown for 913 yards and 10 touchdowns and is on pace for 4,400 yards passing.

"He's the best player in our league," Sirianni said.

Saint Vincent at Waynesburg: Waynesburg University wants to erase the memory of last week's 47-24 loss to Thomas More. The Yellow Jackets (0-1, 2-1) can do it with a victory over Saint Vincent.

Waynesburg's defense coughed up 495 total yards to the Saints and the offense came up with two fourth-quarter touchdowns that made the final score closer.

Waynesburg's offense is averaging nearly 39 points per game but the dense is giving up about 35 each game.

Quarterback Brad Dawson is enjoying a strong start, completing 58 percent of his passes for 853 yards and 10 touchdowns. He's been intercepted just once.

Copyright Observer Publishing Co.

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