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Good read on kid trying to make NY Giants


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A Character Is Auditioning for a Role With the Giants




Published: August 10, 2006

ALBANY, Aug. 9 ? This is what hope looks like.


Michael Jennings rolls down the street in a 1995 Chevrolet Caprice with 26-inch chrome wheels, music thumping from stereo speakers hidden in the grill, and "One Five" written in large decals on the tinted rear window.


He has "15" ? his jersey number with the Giants ? shaved into the back of his hair, and a mouthful of gold-plated teeth in front. "Luxury in my mouth," he called it.


He wears a T-shirt with a photograph of himself next to Giants Coach Tom Coughlin and the words: "Coach, I'm ready! Put me in!!"


Mostly, though, Jennings stands on the sideline, a little-known receiver waiting for his next chance, believing it will be one that turns hope into a career. He is one of dozens of players hoping to make enough of an impression this preseason to make the final roster.


"Everybody gets their hand in life," Jennings said. "All I'm saying is, when you get your hand, smile, and play your hand the best way you can play."


Jennings did not play college football. He has been cut from N.F.L. Europe twice. He has been cut from N.F.L. teams five times. He has been on the practice squad of three teams, but never on an active roster. He is buried on the Giants' depth chart and is not afraid of being cut again.


"I'm having the time of my life," he said. "Why should I think about the negative when there's so much positive going on?"


At 5 feet 11 inches and 175 pounds, Jennings is a little man in football, but he has found a way to stand out among 89 other players. While most arrived at training camp in Hummers or Mercedes, Range Rovers or BMW's, Jennings drove from Jacksonville, Fla., in his tricked-out Caprice, a car with a Corvette engine that he bought during Giants training camp last year.


"It's real hot down in Florida, and we like letting everybody hear what we're playing inside our cars," Jennings said, explaining the point of having stereo speakers blaring outside as well. "With the A.C. on and the windows rolled up, they can still hear what's going on inside."


As usual, his entrance was flashy, one seen and heard, backed by a heavy bass beat, fronted by a sparkling golden smile. Jennings tends to arrive with heads turned toward him and depart with heads shaking behind him.


But the attention he attracts ? he rolled through the University at Albany campus a few days ago to the throwback strains of Michael Jackson's "Beat It" ? will probably have no bearing on whether he makes the team. Jennings said that his personality was not intended as self-promotion.


"I don't think it's helping or hurting," he said. "I just think it's Mike Jennings, 1-5."


A sprint star on the Florida State track team, Jennings impressed N.F.L. scouts with his speed at an on-campus predraft workout in 2002. He signed with the San Francisco 49ers and was waived during training camp. Since then, he has been alternating between charter-school physical-education teacher and N.F.L. prospect.


In 2004, Jennings was cut by the New England Patriots on Sept. 5, signed with their practice squad Sept. 6, was cut Sept. 7, re-signed Sept. 10 and was cut for the last time Sept. 22.


The Giants lifted him from the Baltimore Ravens' scrap heap later that year.


He was assigned to N.F.L. Europe's Berlin Thunder, a team that cut him the year before. Jennings was among the league's leaders with 33 receptions and 546 yards.


The Giants cut Jennings before the 2005 season, but they liked his speed enough to sign him to the practice squad. He spent the season playing with the Giants during the week and watching in street clothes during the games.


This is where the 26-year-old Jennings finds hope ? in fits and starts, in the dark corners of team rosters, collecting satisfaction in the here-today, gone-tomorrow world of borderline professional athletes.


"If you look at it, I'm in the N.F.L, man," Jennings said. "I didn't play no college ball, and it's all positive to me. I'm living my dream, having the time of my life."


His sunshiny perspective is enhanced by a cloudy past. He has spent time in jail for what he called "hard-headed things."


"Little dope charges, driving with suspended license ? just being ignorant to the law," Jennings said. "I think they happened then so I wouldn't get in trouble now. I learned from those mistakes then, and now I'm ready for life."


Among his best friends from Jacksonville, Jennings said, is Gary McCray, who was accused in 2004 of shooting and killing three men and a woman in a drug house. In January, a judge declared McCray unfit to stand trial and ordered him to a mental hospital.


So Jennings has found a world far from trouble but bordering on uncertainty. He will arrive at the Giants' first preseason game in Baltimore on Friday on a team bus. The gold teeth, a mold that fits over his real white ones, will be stored away. The "15" in the back of his hair will be covered by a Giants helmet.


That is what he wants. That is what hope really looks like. An individual, part of a team.




His player page is worth a look too

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