BOSTON (CBS) — The Patriots drafted Alabama linebacker Anfernee Jennings with the No. 87 overall pick in the 2020 draft, and the young man brings a fascinating story to New England. A few of them, actually.
Jennings nearly lost his leg in 2018 after suffering a horrific knee injury in the Sugar Bowl. He was diagnosed with a PCL tear, but team doctors quickly figured out it was much, much worse. The injury caused damage to the artery in his left leg and produced a blood clot, and had doctors not diagnosed the situation, Jennings would have had to have his left leg amputated.
But he was back to putting up some big numbers in Nick Saban’s defense as a senior, and when his college days were over, Jennings was told by one of New England’s newest coaches that he would become a Patriot when the NFL Draft rolled around. That promise proved to be true Friday night.
Jennings spoke about that and his leg injury in a Saturday morning conference call with the New England media.
(Transcript provided by New England Patriots.)
Q: What did the last two years of your career at Alabama tell you about your ability to overcome adversity?
AJ: First, I want to just off by saying thank you to the New England organization, to the Pats. I really appreciate it and I’m glad to be here. The last two years, I learned a lot about patience and working hard and dealing with adversity and know that you can overcome anything you put your mind to and work at. As you know, my history and you know what type of player I am. I just look forward to taking on this challenge and looking forward to being in Foxborough.
Q: In the immediate aftermath of that injury, did you think it would be possible to be where you are right now and have your name called by the Patriots on draft day?
AJ: Yes sir, I knew it would be possible. I just knew that it would take a lot of hard work, a lot of battling back and working hard, just believing in myself and doing what I had to do with everything that the coaches asked me to do, the trainers and everybody around me. I knew I could be back and even better. I’m here and I’m glad to be a part of the Patriots organization and thankful.
Q: Did Nick Saban tell you anything about what to expect from Bill Belichick?
AJ: No, but I’ve kind of done my research and I know that Coach Saban worked together early in his career. I know what type of coach Coach Saban is, and I look forward to playing with Coach Belichick and getting to Foxborough and getting to work.
Q: Could you tell us about your game? Were there any conversations about you playing off the ball in the NFL, as well as on the edge?
AJ: Yes sir, I talked to Coach Belichick last night. He plans on using me kind of the same way that I was used at Alabama – using my versatility, being able to stack it back off the ball and line up on the edge and move around, making the most of wherever he puts me.
Q: During your last year in Tuscaloosa, did you get to know Vinnie Sunseri when he was a graduate assistant?
AJ: Yeah, no doubt. Vinnie was kind of one of the older guys. He was the analyst for a couple years here and someone I could really reach out to and have conversations with. He got to the job to New England earlier this year and he told me, actually right before we started the combine and stuff like that, that I was going to be a Patriot. With that being said, I just went about the process and now I’m here and I’m a Patriot. So, it’s kind of funny, and I look forward to it.
Q: When you were talking to Coach Belichick, did you almost feel like you were talking to Coach Saban in terms of the way they talk and deliver their message?
AJ: Most definitely. The level of respect for both coaches, it’s top of the chart. I’m just thankful for the opportunity, and I look forward to it and I’m ready to get to work.
Q: What do you know about former Alabama linebacker Dont’a Hightower?
AJ: I know quite a bit about him. After I was drafted, he reached out to me and we texted for a little bit and got on the same page. Ready to get to it and follow the ropes and just work hard, get to it.
Q: The Patriots have earned a reputation over the years of embracing players that have a maturity about themselves. You have earned two degrees at Alabama and also have a son. What kind of perspective does that give you and how does that maturity help you as you move onto the NFL?
AJ: I took advantage of my time here at Alabama, in the classroom and I feel like on the field. I really grew as a player and matured on and off the field. Like you said, I have a son, and I just look forward to being the best version of myself each and every day and being the best father I can be, best teammate I can be, player and the list goes on. But I’m just thankful for this opportunity, once again, and I can’t wait to get to Foxborough and get to work.