Big 10

Detroit area 8th graders with D-I football offers hope Michigan, Michigan State take notice

May 6, 2016

OAK PARK, MI — Often times, high school football players work and grind to receive a college scholarship offer by the time they are seniors. Some are lucky enough to get offers as juniors or, sometimes, even sooner than that.

Yet, players Justin Rogers and Enzo Jennings are probably the rarest of all to receive a college football scholarship. After all, they are middle school athletes.

Back on April 25, the two Detroit area eighth graders both received Division I scholarship offers from the University of Kentucky, creating a buzz in the recruiting world. The public and media were able to debate if it is appropriate for college programs to even be talking with middle school athletes, let alone offer them.

Daryl Graham is the founder of the Developing Great Athletes, a football conditioning and skills group for young football players of all ages. As the trainer for both Rogers and Jennings, Graham thinks there is no reason for any dissenting voices to discredit the boys or their offers.

“I really don’t pay no attention because, at the end of the day, in the south, that’s normal,” Graham said. “It happens every day. So, what this shows me is that our kids are just as talented and we are starting to get the exposure that we deserve.”

The boys could not have been more over the moon about the offers, still getting wide grins on their face when asked how they feel about the topic. Both boys are still processing all of the joy and emotion of their special circumstances. They had both become minor celebrities as far as they were concerned.

Jennings, who attends Oak Prep Preparatory Academy, noticed a nice hike in the amount of his Twitter followers.

“I started seeing all of the congratulations on Twitter,” Jennings said. “I’m like, ‘wow, it’s really happening.’ It’s amazing.”

Rogers, an eighth grader at Southfield Bradford Academy, was impressed that his principal wanted to take a photo with them.

“I was like, laughing,” Rogers said, still grinning. “It was funny. A picture of me?”

It does not take much to impress Rogers or Jennings at this point but, what they will soon find when they move on to play at Oak Park next year, many more colleges could start doing whatever they can to impress them.

(Video caption: Getting to know 2020 Oak Park OL/DL Justin Rogers. Rogers was offered by the University of Kentucky as an eighth grader. Jared Purcell | japurcell@mlive.com))
(Video caption: Getting to know 2020 Oak Park DB Enzo Jennings. Jennings was offered by Kentucky a an eighth grader. Jared Purcell | japurcell@mlive.com)

The future looms large

Although they are officially not high school athletes, both boys certainly look like they should be high school. Rogers stands an impressive 6-foot-3 and 269 pounds and plays the line on both sides of the ball while Jennings is 6-foot-2, 170 pounds athletic defensive back. While walking around Oak Park high school after classes were out to attend a training session with coach Graham in the school’s weight room, no one would mistake either of the boys for being anything less than a high school student.

Of course, the boys get questioned about their age on a near daily basis.

“They’ll be thinking I’m like 17 or 18,” Rogers said.

When talking about the number of offers the two could potentially get as they move through high school, those numbers could be higher than whatever age they are mistaken to be. Already, the boys are already starting to wonder if their favorite schools will ever take notice. Already, some have.

Although both said they want to explore their options, both said that they each hope to get offers from both Michigan and Michigan State as further validation of their talent.

Jennings has already interacted with some football staff members at the University of Michigan.

“I love Michigan,” Jennings said, whose main position is running back. “One of my (Oak Park) teammates, JaRaymond Hall, is committed there. I been up there some times and I love the school.”

Although Rogers admitted that he would love to go down south to play football at “schools like LSU, Mississippi State and Tennessee.”

When Rogers mentioned Tennessee, Jennings spoke up in agreement. Of course, former 2015 Oak Park star John Kelly attends Tennessee as a running back.

“John Kelly is like my brother,” Jennings said. “I love to see him play.”

Although neither have spoken to Mark Dantonio or Jim Harbaugh, both have admiration when it comes to the reputation of their home-state coaches.

“I heard (Harbaugh) is a tough coach but I don’t think anything is tougher than coach (Graham),” Jennings said with a smile. “But I think I can take it.”

Rogers said he sees Mark Dantonio as “a good person, a real good person” and he said that Harbaugh is a “down-to-earth guy.”

Rogers and Jennings each admit that if Michigan or Michigan State would offer, it may be hard to leave the state they call home — even if Rogers gets an offer from a southern powerhouse.

“It would be real, real tough,” Rogers said. “LSU is like the first-ever college that I wanted to go to, like my dream college. It would be a hard choice. It would depend, academic wise too.”

A golden ticket

As surprised as Rogers and Jennings were that they both received offers from a Division I school already, the shock was just as strong for the mothers of both boys.

“I was very excited,” said Joya Townsel, Rogers’ mother. “I thought that you would have to have been almost on your way out of high school to even get an offer from colleges.”

Gaylencia Jennings, Enzo’s mother, was just as surprised as Townsel.

“We were just ecstatic,” Gaylencia said. “I started crying. For that opportunity, we know how special it is.”

Of course, knowing that their sons each have a highly likely chance of having their education paid for is a huge plus. Gaylencia is already paying to put two daughters through college at Wayne State and Central Michigan and is relieved that Enzo has a way to get a full ride.

“Believe me, I know the cost of what it takes,” Gaylencia said. “For this opportunity to come along I’m so grateful.”

Although Gaylencia will do everything she can to make sure that her son does not do anything to throw his golden ticket away, she knows that her son understands how lucky he is. He is currently an A student in the classroom.

“He’s so humble, he deserves it,” she said.

Although Rogers says he loves football because he can be very aggressive with people, he admits that he is the complete opposite away from the field. Rogers even said that loves going to tutoring “to learn.”

“He’s a gentle giant,” Townsley said of her son. “He’s a good kid.”

Too much too soon?

Of course, Rogers and Jennings may both be two quiet and humble young people at the moment. Yet, it is hard not to wonder how the spotlight could influence the boys in coming years should their recruiting take off. How many Twitter followers does it take for a teenager’s ego to expand? How many calls from college coaches does it take for a kid to get a big head?

According to Oak Park coach Greg Carter, he will make sure that is not going to happen.

Although Carter admits that he has not seen Jennings or Rogers play, he says he has interacted with them enough to know that both of them have good heads on their shoulders. Having coached his fair share of college athletes in his nearly 40 years of coaching, Carter has no room for egos on his team.

“I haven’t won any championships recently so my coaching might be down a little bit but what I do best is deflate egos,” Carter said. “I can let air out of heads very well. You hear a lot of fizzing around here, that’s a lot of air coming out of the heads. As long as the kids understand really what its about and, those two young men, they understand that it’s an opportunity that’s offered to them. It’s not guaranteed. If they don’t play well on this level and don’t continue to improve, then that scholarship won’t be there. We all know that.”

Both boys understand that, eventually, their phones could become flooded with calls from college coaches around the country. Although they can only speculate what their own recruiting trails will be like, they are already trying to focus themselves for the long haul.

“I’m not trying to get too much of a big head,” Jennings said. “I’m still in eighth grade. I just want to play all of my years of high school and do the best I can and see what happens.”

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