SURREY, B.C. — Jonathon Jennings has been here before.
A true freshman quarterback at Saginaw Valley State University back in 2010, Jennings started five games as an 18 year old before going onto a decorated career with Cardinals, including 31 touchdown passes as a senior.
Fast-forward five seasons and he’s getting thrown into the deep end once more with the B.C. Lions.
With both Travis Lulay and John Beck out injured, Jennings will make the first professional start of his career on Saturday when the Lions visit the Edmonton Eskmos.
“I relate this very much so to that,” the 23-year-old said after Wednesday’s practice. “I kind of got thrown into the fire in college my freshman year. You just try and learn as much as you can from those vets.
“You have to be realistic with yourself. You’re not going to know everything, but you have to go out there and try to do what you can.”
Lulay suffered a knee injury on Sept. 3, while Beck went down with a pectoral-muscle ailment in Friday’s 35-23 road loss to the Calgary Stampeders, meaning that in a few short weeks Jennings has gone from No. 3 to No. 1 on the depth chart.
It’s quite a turn of events for the Columbus, Ohio, native following a 2014 season where he bounced around a few NFL minicamps after getting a look from the Saskatchewan Roughriders.
After a string of disappointments, Jennings wasn’t sure if he had a future in football.
“That went through my head a couple times. It was a tough year just hoping that somebody would take a shot,” he said. “I always believed in myself, but if the right opportunity doesn’t come then you’re just sitting there waiting.”
The six-foot 195-pound QB who can make things happen with his feet as well as his arm finished 15 of 28 passing for 252 yards against Calgary after Beck went down. But he also threw three interceptions and knows he needs to minimize mistakes for the Lions (4-7) to have any chance against the Eskimos (8-4) as they continue to battle for a West Division playoff spot.
“We have an excellent team. We’ve just got to put it all together,” said Jennings. “Big plays are something you need in a football game, especially on offence, but if it’s not there I’m going to try not to force anything.”
Lions head coach Jeff Tedford — whose team has lost two straight and four of its last five, but beat Edmonton at home in August — said Jennings has all the tools to succeed in the CFL.
“It’s a bonus to know how well he prepares, what kind of person is, his work ethic,” said Tedford. “All that kind of stuff was icing on the cake.”
The Lions’ ground attack showed signs of life after Jennings came on against the Stampeders because of his ability to run the zone read. It’s something that running back Andrew Harris hopes is a sign of things to come after rushing for just four yards against the Ottawa Redblacks two weeks ago.
“(Jennings) is beyond his years as far as where he’s at in understanding the game,” said Harris, who had 58 yards rushing versus Calgary. “His athleticism’s going to take us a long way. I’m excited to see how it plays out.
“There’s quite a few things that we can do with him and utilize his strengths. I’m looking forward to seeing how he handles the pressure this weekend and see what happens when the lights come on.”
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Joshua Clipperton, The Canadian Press