Ricky Jennings is a natural born athlete seeking to live up to his family’s history of excellence in sports and their lofty expectations.
“I came from a very elite athletic background,” said Jennings, a Roane State Community College student.
“I was such a big football guy,” Jennings said. “I never had baseball as my life goal,” he said, even though his dad had at one point been drafted by the Milwaukee Brewers. Ricky’s father hammered home a mantra for his son — “Make sure you get the job done and win.”
The 20-year-old Oak Ridge resident had played football from age 3 through 17 and was regarded as a skilled quarterback. But he’s been hard-hit by some physical and mental challenges, and he’s seeking to rebound.
Fate first intervened during a football camp in July 2017 at Clemson University when he suffered a serious heat stroke while his family was in the process of moving from Aurora, Colorado, to Oak Ridge.
The heat stroke affected his motor skills, he said, and he noted a big drop-off in his athleticism. “I was trying to become who I used to be,” he said.
The family’s move to Oak Ridge was also a challenge. “There were some very big cultural issues, and I had a very hard time adapting.”
Still, Jennings said he tried to live up to his family’s reputation for athletic excellence. He played football and baseball at Oak Ridge High but stepped away from football after his junior year.
He attracted college recruiters’ attention for his expertise in baseball and could hurl a 91 mile per hour pitch. But misfortune intervened again during a tryout for the Cincinnati Reds when he pulled a hamstring.
He then had the same thing happen two more times in the same year because he felt like he had to push his limits so a school would want him. Looking forward to a highly anticipated senior season in 2020, the COVID-19 outbreak thwarted any kind of success that would help reach his goals.
That summer he was training hard to play at the college level and enrolled at another community college in Tennessee. While that was a very exciting time for him, Jennings said he didn’t feel that excitement but more of a very neutral feeling.
That feeling went spiraling into something worse that sent him into a depression that “led to one of the deepest holes I’ve been in,” he said. While succeeding as an athlete, he was failing in a battle against depression and attempted suicide in October 2020. He failed both semesters, and he says the pandemic prevented any comeback.
Jennings said a “very big turnaround” occurred in May 2021 after two events occurred. He told his father in a phone call that he was failing his classes. His father’s response: “You have to find a way, son. There’s nothing you can do to go back and fix it. You have to believe you can do it.”
Right after that call, a friend invited him to Oak Valley Baptist Church. The sermon “sparked something I hadn’t felt before and made me throw out every negative feeling of failure. I knew I had to slowly find a step to get out of this hole I made.”
Jennings said he enrolled in Roane State and baseball coach Cam Hamsley said he would give him a second chance next season.
“That’s what I needed to try to obtain my goals,” Jennings said.
This past spring, Jennings said he spent a lot of time trying to improve his study habits at Roane State. “I’m doing pretty well academically and the Learning Center is definitely a big help.”
Standout educators, Jennings said, include assistant psychology professor Darren York and Ashley Galloway, a biology professor.
York is “very realistic and honest,” Jennings said. “He understands how much the workload can be sometimes.”
Galloway “makes sure you’re up to pace, and her course goes in depth. She cares about her students and their success.”
Roane State is “a good place to be, and a good opportunity,” Jennings said.
Roane State provides counseling services to students at no cost. Counselors can meet in-person or by phone or video call. Students can request appointments or additional information on these services by visiting roanestate.edu/counseling. Students can also email the college’s response team at email@example.com for help with any issue they may be facing. For more info on resources for students at Roane State, including counseling and learning support, visit roane state.edu/studentservices.