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Ravens Insider: Childhood friends Devin Leary, Deion Jennings reunite with Ravens: ‘I got his back … he’s got mine’

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The stars aligned for Devin Leary and Deion Jennings.

Less than an hour after Leary, a quarterback, finished his phone call late last month with the Ravens in which he was told he’d be selected with the 218th pick in the NFL draft last month, he was able to share his proudest moment with one of his best friends, Jennings.

“We were already having people over and then my dad got a call from his dad asking if we had room for more,” Leary, the former University of Kentucky star, said. “The next thing you know, Deion’s people were here and everyone was celebrating. We’re both going to Baltimore.”

Jennings, Leary’s childhood friend and high school teammate, reached a deal of his own with the Ravens, signing as an undrafted free agent out of Rutgers.

“It’s crazy because when I first saw where Devin got drafted, I was like, ‘Oh, that’s a good look for him,'” the inside linebacker said. “Next thing you know, I’m in Baltimore myself in a great situation with this great organization.”

What started as a bond between 10-year-olds with the same dreams and relentless drive has blossomed through the years. College sent them on separate paths, but they’re reunited in Baltimore, starting their NFL careers at rookie minicamp and eager to stand out and take advantage of the opportunity they’ve worked so hard for.

“It doesn’t matter at this point where you’re picked or how you got here,” Leary said. “The job is to work hard every single day, earn the respect of your teammates and be genuine.”

The two starred at Timber Creek Regional High School in Sicklerville, New Jersey, about 20 miles southeast of Philadelphia. Many there saw each player’s talent and potential early on and felt the homegrown stars could develop into something special.

“When they got to me, they were already on a youth football team that was putting up 60 points in eighth grade,” said Robert Hinson, who coached Timber Creek before eventually joining Jennings at Rutgers as a player personnel assistant. “They came in humble, waited their turn, and when they got their shot, they both led our program to great heights together.”

Leary, who became a two-time New Jersey Gatorade Player of the Year, bypassed powerhouse private schools to join Jennings and eventually former Maryland defensive back and Los Angeles Chargers fifth-round draft pick Tarheeb Still at Timber Creek, where they would reach three straight state championship games, winning two.

Ravens inside linebacker Deion Jennings participates in the team's rookie minicamp Saturday in Owings Mills. (AP Photo/Daniel Kucin Jr.)
Ravens undrafted free agent inside linebacker Deion Jennings, pictured, and quarterback Devin Leary were teammates at Timber Creek Regional High School in Sicklerville, New Jersey. (Daniel Kucin Jr./AP)

Jennings and Leary not only cemented themselves as elite prospects but established a culture at Timber Creek and throughout the area, setting the standard for athletes looking to take their talents as far as they could.

“What stood out about them was their character,” high school teammate and friend Derryk Sellers said. “Devin held it down on offense while Deion took charge on [defense]. They competed with each other in every little thing in practice, but then we were all like brothers 24/7, and the rest of the younger guys just followed suit. That’s the culture at TC.”

Watching and supporting each other from miles away, neither Leary nor Jennings were surprised to see the other have success in college.

“Devin always had an arm,” Jennings said. “It was really good to see him grow as a leader, become even more vocal and just mature into who he is now.”

As both sat through years on the scout team, fighting up the depth chart and earning their stripes, they leaned on each other for motivation and friendship.

“We would always have conversations and just check in on each other,” Jennings said. “Yeah, we were both off miles away playing ball, but we still wanted to check in on each other’s mental headspace.”

Leary went on to NC State, where he finished sixth in school history with 6,807 career passing yards and fourth in career completion percentage as the Wolfpack’s signal caller from 2019 to 2022.

“[Ravens quarterback coach] Tee Martin does an excellent job evaluating, and he thinks he’s a natural thrower,” Ravens executive vice president and general manager Eric DeCosta said after the draft. “Tee thinks he’s an accurate passer. He loves the kid. He thinks he’s got the right mentality to come in and compete and improve.”

After suffering a pectoral injury, Leary postponed his NFL aspirations for a year, opting instead to enter the transfer portal and head to Kentucky, where he led the Wildcats to the Music City Bowl.

Baltimore Ravens quarterback Devin Leary (13) throws during an NFL Rookie Minicamp, Saturday, May 04, 2024 in Owings Mills, Md. (AP Photo/Daniel Kucin Jr.)
“The biggest thing I want to do is just be a sponge,” Devin Leary said. (Daniel Kucin Jr./AP)

What Leary remembers most from his college career was the support he received from those closest to him, including Jennings, during some of the darkest points.

“Deion would call me all the time,” Leary said. “When I was really having a rough time or was just down, talking to him and some of my other Timber Creak guys would change everything. It meant the world to me.”

Jennings, meanwhile, went from starting three games as a freshman to finishing as the Scarlet Knights’ leading tackler in each of his final two seasons, earning All-Big Ten honorable mention selections both years. The linebacker tied the school record with 58 career games played.

“They are getting an absolute dog,” Sellers said. “He’s one of those get-after-it, nitty-gritty type of guys. He’s quiet and doesn’t say much because he’s humble as ever, but he’ll go out and get the job done.”

During rookie minicamp, both have turned their attention to learning as much as they can from fellow players, position coaches and anyone in the Ravens organization.

“The biggest thing I want to do is just be a sponge,” Leary said. “Making sure that the coaches understand I’m taking precise notes, studying my film, watching extra film at night, coming in with questions and taking everything from the film room onto the field.”

Leary and Jennings have each acknowledged there has been a sense of comfort knowing that in a new city, with a new organization and getting the first taste of life as a professional football player, there was someone close to them to share the experience with.

With the rest of the offseason program leading into training camp this summer, the pair know that no matter where their professional careers take them, they have cherished the time they have had to start their lifelong dream side by side.

“I got his back and I know he’s got mine,” Jennings said. “We’ve been doing this thing together all our lives and I know wherever we end up, it will still remain that way.”

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