MORGANTOWN — Wide receiver Gary Jennings has become the reliable “catch everything” target for the West Virginia offense and quarterback Will Grier.
While getting in the end zone was a problem all last season for Jennings — scoring just one touchdown in 13 games — he did catch 97 passes, good for fifth most in a single season in school history and most in the Big 12 in 2017. Eighteen of those catches were on third down and 15 of those 18 went for first downs.
That trend continued last Saturday against Tennessee, hauling in six catches for 113 yards and yes, a touchdown in the third quarter.
At 6-foot-1 and 214 pounds, he’s abnormally big for a slot receiver, but Jennings’ has an uncanny ability to catch with his hands rather than his body. Look no further than his touchdown grab against the Vols, using both hands to snag the ball over his shoulders without pulling it into his body.
While some of it is God-given with hand size, strength coach Mike Joseph helped Jennings develop into the vacuum he’s become.
“A lot of it is developed as well — coach Mike has a whole bunch of little gadgets that he throws out there. He helps us a lot and that’s probably the biggest reason I’ve gotten the way I am.”
A simple drill is to have a coach toss tennis balls in rapid succession and to catch them with just the fingers and not the palm of the hand. Just like a football, if it hits the palm of the hand, it’s more likely to pop out. Catching more than one tennis ball in one hand also helps strengthen the grip.
Of course, the jug machine is something Joseph implements with his wide receivers.
“We catch 100s of balls out of the jug machine coming from all different directions,” Jennings said. “That helps you not only get used to the speed coming at you but making adjustments on the fly.”
Saturday will be Jennings’ second chance against Youngstown State — he was a sophomore when the Penguins came to Milan Puskar Stadium in 2016. Jennings hauled in one catch for 11 yards.
“We have to stay consistent this week and not backing off because this is an FCS school — we have to continue to turn it up,” he said.