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TCU West Virginia Football

WVU wide receiver Gary Jennings led the Big 12 in receptions in 2017 with 97.

WVU wide receiver Gary Jennings smiles widely when the memory is brought up.

It was the day he signed to play for the Mountaineers. At first, head coach Dana Holgorsen was nervous he wasn’t going to land the wideout. Then, Holgorsen seemed giddy after he did, beating out suitors like Virginia, North Carolina, Notre Dame and Wisconsin.

Recruiting site 247 Sports had Jennings as the No. 1,188 player in the country. He was listed as the nation’s No. 142 receiver. He was even rated as the 35th-best player coming out of Virginia.

Holgorsen, though, apparently knew. He apparently got it.

“It seems a long time ago,” Jennings said. “It’s been great to be here though. I’ve learned a lot along the way. Now I can’t wait for this upcoming year.”

It certainly sets up as a nice one for the 6-foot-1, 214-pound senior. He led the Big 12 in receptions last year with 97 and in catches per game at 7.5. Consider how pass-happy the league is when you consider that.

Now consider Jennings hasn’t been given All-America status. His teammate, David Sills, has, with 37 fewer receptions last year. Also, when Athlon magazine doled out its All-Big 12 first-team selections, Jennings didn’t make the cut. Sills, Baylor’s Denzel Mims and Oklahoma’s Marquise Brown were the choices. Jennings joined OU’s CeeDee Lamb and Iowa State’s Hakeem Butler on the second team.

“It is what it is,” Jennings shrugged. “It’s how things have rolled. The main thing at the end of the day though is getting a ‘W’ on the scoreboard.”

Well, that and, for a player of Jennings’ ability, a shot at the NFL. NFL Draft Scout.com has Jennings as the No. 8 receiver available for next year’s draft, three slots below Sills.

“I’m trying to be a different animal next year,” Jennings said. “I’m fine-tuning what I might not have necessarily been as good at.”

Jennings probably could have jumped to the NFL after last season, a la Texas Tech’s Keke Coutee, who was selected in the fourth round by the Houston Texans. Yet Jennings was a part of the Mountaineer group — which included players like Sills, quarterback Will Grier and tackle Yodny Cajuste — that decided to return for a run at a Big 12 title.

“Conversations were had,” Jennings said. “We figured that if everyone came back, it could be very special. Now we’re putting in a lot of extra hard work. We’re fine-tuning things in order to be that much better. That’s our goal.”

Also, Jennings and Sills are part of a group schooling the incoming receivers.

“The main thing I like from what I’m seeing is they don’t gripe about the extra work,” Jennings said of the newcomers. “They kind of jump in. They’re eager to work hard. That’s a great sign.”

The newcomers, in fact, have been assigned veterans to follow.

“I have Randy Fields,” Jennings said. “He follows me around everywhere. It’s great. He pushes me and I push him.”

And the scouting report on Fields?

“He’s a little bit bigger than me, I think,” Jennings said. “I know he has great hands and can get in and out of breaks. He definitely has a big upside.”

Maybe even like that 3-star prospect once rated No. 35 in the state of Virginia.

“You come here because of the family atmosphere,” Jennings said. “And you learn a lot of things as you grow older, a lot of lessons through struggles and hardships.”

And one day, perhaps, be looked upon as a top 10 NFL prospect at receiver.

Mitch Vingle can be reached at 304-348-4827 or mitchvingle@wvgazettemail.com. Follow him on Twitter @MitchVingle.