Brian Jennings: Unsung Hero

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Entering his tenth season as a member of the 49ers, Brian Jennings has been one of the team's most important players over the last decade. The long snapper and backup tight end has played an integral part with the 49ers special teams units and has been a reliable snapper during many clutch moments from playoff games to game-winning kicks.

Jennings is also a one-of-a-kind personality, who practices yoga and pilates and longs to one day become a great golfer. The golf can wait, but helping the 49ers get back to the playoffs like earlier in his career is easily his top priority.

Luckily for him, he's one of the best long snappers in the NFL. The 49ers thought so highly of Jennings, they extended him earlier this month through the 2014 season.

The day of his contract extension was signed, Jennings said: "The biggest thing I feel right now is grateful, to the York family and the 49ers for drafting me originally. I'm just grateful to be a part of this organization and having a future in the organization is a really good thing."

Having a reliable snapper like Jennings in turn is a really good thing for the 49ers too.

Jennings makes life much easier for place-kicker Joe Nedney and punter Andy Lee. He also contributes by making tackles once his snapping duties are complete. In his nine previous seasons, Jennings has totaled 53 special teams tackles.

Reliability and talent has earned Jennings the right to stay with the same team for almost a decade. Following this upcoming season, he'll be a member of the 49ers 10-Year Club.

"It's a big deal to me," he said candidly. "When you look at the names on that wall, you see the most famous 49ers. They are the guys who you recognize as the 49ers. A lot of those guys are sewn in the fabric of the organization. To me, it becomes a big part of who you are. You spend 10 years with an organization, it becomes your NFL experience and that's awesome to me."

Jennings might be the most unnoticed member of the club by nature of his position.

"The ironic thing about my job is it's so against everything, like my personality. So, my job is to be boring. My job is to go unnoticed. My personality is to have fun.

"For me to have a job that requires me to absolutely be invisible and seamless, to just snap the ball so Andy [Lee] can catch it and punt it, or stand it on end and Joe [Nedney] can kick it through the uprights – it really goes so much against my personality type."

In nine seasons, Jennings has played in every poor weather condition. Snow, sleet, rain, mud – you name it he's snapped in it.

And then there was that one time the 49ers played the Bears at Soldier Field in 2007 where 50 mph wind came blowing through the field, making his job extremely difficult.

"Yeah, the gale-force wind," Jennings recalled. "We were five miles away from a hurricane and I was able to snap the ball accurately in that wind. And that would definitely be a career highlight for me. That's one of the things as a competitor and an athlete – you don't really think of a long snapper all the time – but it feels good in big situations."

Being in those moments just "feels right" for

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Jennings. Having to make a perfect snap, then proceed to race down the field and tackle a speedy punt returner is an opportunity Jennings relishes.

This offseason, Jennings was out of his element taking summer school courses at Scottsdale Community College and then playing golf on the side. He longed to return to the 49ers facility to kick-off the season where he could feel "right" again, doing what he loves to do.

"That's the thing I've been battling this offseason while trying to learn some chemistry," he joked about his summer school class subject. "I've been battling in the classroom and on the golf course and I just feel off. It just doesn't feel comfortable to me; it feels kind of weird. But when I'm long snapping, it feels right to me. When I feel the ball come out of my hands, I block my man at the line and then I sprint down the field – it just feels right.

"I can picture Michael Robinson running down the field with me and we're all flying down the field and that's how things are supposed to be. We all close in on the returner and he ends up running into one of us. Sometimes he runs into me and we get up and we all celebrate because Andy Lee just had a 55-yard net on his punt. We get excited as we run off the field, because we all did what we were supposed to do.

"To me, that's the only way I can explain it. When I try things I'm not good at, it feels awkward and weird. But when I get back to snapping the ball I'm back in my comfort zone and that's how things are supposed to be."

Conversely, Jennings wasn't supposed to even be a long snapper. As a walk-on at Arizona State with aspirations of playing tight end, Jennings suffered an injury that ultimately helped him stamp out a productive NFL career.

Jennings grew up playing baseball and had only played one year of high school football before walking on the football team. Two weeks into his foray into college football, Jennings got injured and that's when long snapping came into the picture. While rehabbing in the spring, Jennings practiced snapping.

Low and behold, he turned out to be great at it.

"I never wanted to be a long snapper and it was never interesting to me," Jennings said with an honest look on his face. "It was nothing I ever wanted to do, but it was a way for me to earn a scholarship and get on the field, so I decided to get good at it."

Not only was he talented at long snapping, he was drafted in the seventh-round of the 2000 NFL Draft.

From his rookie season on, Jennings handled all snapping responsibilities and was even named to the 2004 Pro Bowl team as a "need player."

Naturally, Jennings' position doesn't generate heavy amounts of media coverage or fan adoration. But inside team headquarters, Jennings is one of the most respected teammates. His work largely goes overlooked by many, but his fellow teammates are appreciative of his efforts in helping the 49ers win games.

This upcoming season, Jennings has his mind set on getting the 49ers back into the playoffs. For the rest of the offseason he'll be getting prepared for opening day and a successful 2009 season.

"I have to get my mind right so I'm ready to compete and do my job. I think about the preparation that was required in the OTAs, minicamps and what will be needed in training camp. Andy (Lee), Joe (Nedney) and I all need to make sure our get-off times are where they need to be. I need to focus on making sure I put the ball in the best place for them to strike the ball well, whether it's on a punt or field goal. I'm really just gearing up for the season, emotionally and mentally for what it takes to show up on gameday and last the entire season. I'm focused on doing my job, performing at a high level and winning some football games. All those feelings start to brew and by training camp, that's when you want to be ready to go."

Thankfully, Jennings has been a gamer for his entire 49ers career and only knows one way to approach his job. The very job he once looked down upon, now has allowed him to compete at the highest level of professional sports.

Not bad. Not bad at all.

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