By Jim Hintelmann
RUMSON – Although he had been playing lacrosse since he was in the second grade, it was not the sport J.T. Jennings had planned to play when he got to high school.
“Honestly, I thought that I was going to be a baseball player when I got to high school,” said Jennings, who recently closed out an outstanding lacrosse and football career at Rumson-Fair Haven Regional High School last month.
An injury derailed those plans but, as it turned out, it might have been a big break for Jennings.
“I tore my rotator cuff playing baseball in the eighth grade,” said Jennings, who will be playing lacrosse at Siena College next season. “I couldn’t throw very well, but a friend of mine told me that I should try lacrosse.”
That proved to be wise advice as Jennings developed into a standout lacrosse player on defense and helped Rumson win four straight Shore Conference championships.
“I should thank my friend for that,” he said.
A few weeks ago, Jennings finished his scholastic lacrosse career in the conference championship game against Southern Regional during which the Bulldogs rolled to a 19-10 victory. It was the second year in a row that Rumson had beaten Southern for the championship.
“Southern had Dylan Jenks, who was one of the best players in the Shore Conference,” Jennings said. “We wanted to shut him down, but he got off some good shots against us and scored three or four goals.
“Fortunately, we were still able to control the game and our offense was great,” Jennings said.
Despite the win, it was not the most memorable of Rumson’s four championship games as far as Jennings was concerned.
“The biggest game was in my sophomore year when we played Jackson Memorial,” he said. “We won the game in the final 10 seconds when Dylan Babiak scored the winning goal. Jackson was a big rival for us.”
Rumson lost only to Summit, Lawrenceville Prep and Arthur L. Johnson this season. The losses to Summit and Lawrenceville could have been accepted since they were state powers, but the setback to Johnson in the New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association (NJSIAA) Group II semifinals was painful because they scored two goals in the final 30 seconds to stun the Bulldogs.
“That was heartbreaking,” Jennings said. “They were the 10th seed in the tournament but we kind of lost our composure and they scored two goals in about 15 seconds. We had led, 5-0, early in the game.”
Jennings’ best individual game came against Lawrenceville Prep, a perennial lacrosse power.
“I was going against a good friend of mine, Matthew Hubler, who is going to Johns Hopkins,” Jennings said. “His brother, Chris, plays for Rumson-Fair Haven. We know each other very well and I know how he plays. We lost the game, but I played pretty well against him.”
Jennings was also a standout middle linebacker for Rumson’s NJSIAA Central Jersey Group II state championship football team that went 10-1, losing only to Red Bank Catholic.
Rumson defeated Weequahic of Newark, 14-6, in the title game, and the win avenged a 7-3 setback to Weequahic in the 2012 championship game.
“They beat us on a 90-yard touchdown run by a running back who I think is playing at Iowa, but that helped us this year,” he said. “They used a double wing offense, which is tricky to play against because they have so much speed.”
Rumson, however, got a break when Weequahic changed its offense a bit.
“In the state game, they tried to power through us instead of using their speed,” Jennings said. “That didn’t make too much sense to us because that was similar to the offense we play and we read it well.
“They almost won the game at the end when they drove down the field,” he said, “but we came up with three sacks in a row and held on to win.
“Since I’m not going to play football in college, that was the perfect way to end it – with a state championship and four Shore Conference lacrosse titles,” he said.
“In the RBC game, we were losing 17-0 at the half and, since we had the state game coming up the following week, the coaches used a lot of subs in the second half,” he said.
“RBC had a great team and an awesome offensive line. It was their last game of the season but we still had our tournament game left. I still think we can compete with RBC and I’m disappointed that we are not playing them any more.”
Jennings will be leaving for Siena next month and is looking forward to playing lacrosse there.
“They are not as strong as Johns Hopkins and the other big schools,’” he said, “but they made the top 16 in the NCAAs this year.
“I’m not sure about my major,” he said, ”but I think it will be either business or finance. I want to do some coaching when I get out of college.”
Jennings leaves Rumson with many happy memories.
“Most of my best friends played sports with me and the whole community is behind us and the athletic program,” he said. “You are a kind of celebrity when you play football here.
“If I had to do it all over again, I wouldn’t change a thing. It was a great experience.”