NFL Pro Rashad Jennings Announces Retirement, Reveals 'DWTS' All-Athletes Dream Team (Exclusive)
By Desiree Murphy
Rashad Jennings is saying goodbye to the football field.
The 32-year-old athlete announced his official retirement from the NFL on Friday. ET caught up with the former New York Giants running back over the phone just moments after the announcement, where he looked back on his eight seasons with the league and revealed what's next.
"I feel good, I really do," said Jennings, who played for the Jacksonville Jaguars (2009-2012) and Oakland Raiders (2013) before signing to the Giants in 2014. "People say, 'All good things must come to an end,' but that's true -- only for great things to begin. I think that's where I'm at in life and I look forward to all the other things that I'll be involved in. It's all smiles this way."
"I knew it was going to be a possibility, as a free agent, going into my ninth season as a veteran running back," he continued. "My rookie year, all season I said, 'OK, I'm going to train this offseason like I'm going to be the starter, and I'm going to prepare myself that that was the last season I'd ever play.' You know what I did the second season? I trained like I was going to be the starter and prepared like it was going to be the last. I've been there for eight years, and it happens to be that the latter is actually right."
Jennings was drafted by Jacksonville in the seventh round of the 2009 NFL Draft. He played his final game last January -- the NFC Wild Card game between the Giants and Green Bay Packers, which marked his first and only postseason contest of his career. Jennings retires with 3,772 rushing yards, 1,468 receiving yards and 23 touchdowns.
"I'm happy to say that I made it to the playoffs and actually played in the playoff game," the Forest, Virginia, native exclaimed. "There's many guys that have had a career and never played in the playoffs. It's not anything that's given. Obviously everyone wants to go and win a Super Bowl. But I definitely always wanted to see what that atmosphere felt like, in a playoff game, and I finally got it, and it was my last game."
While Jennings told ET he has "a ton of memories with the NFL," there's one moment that will forever hold an extra special place in his heart.
"One of the best memories was when my dad was able to come out and watch me play live," he said of the Giants' home game against the New Orleans Saints in 2016. "Being that he's in a wheelchair, it's very difficult for him to get around, so, that's something very memorable for me. Just crying and seeing my dad actually come me play."
"But it's funny, there's different things that strike me as memories," he added. "As a rookie in Jacksonville, one thing that I hold as a memory is being on the field, protecting the quarterback, David Garrard. They put me out on the football field, and it was my first play. I knew it was going to be a pass play, and I'm reading my protection. And I saw the blitz coming before it came. For me, that struck me as like, 'Oh, I'm actually in the NFL. I actually see the game now.'"
"All the friendships, relationships, the cities I've been able to travel to, everything this game has given me... It's a dream and I've actually been able to live it."
Jennings says that competing (and winning!) season 24 of Dancing With the Stars opened a number of new doors for him, positioning him for a different type of career off the field.
"The show allowed me to take off my helmet and show the world who I am as a person, not just as a football player," he explained. "There was nothing else they could have handed me that I could have done to put me in a better position than doing DWTS. And when I went into it, I never thought I would win, that all these things could happen… I literally just wanted to learn how to ballroom dance."
Since taking home the mirrorball trophy in May 2017, Jennings has continued to dance. He recently taught his very first ballroom class, and doesn't plan on hanging up his dance shoes anytime soon.
"Now, dance is apart of me," he said. "Who would have thought? I taught my first dance class recently and it was really fun. I actually thought about putting together some dance workout videos. I am excited to see what else is going to happen like that in life, that I don't know what is around the corner."
Although Jennings tells ET he won't be competing on DWTS' All-Athletes season in spring 2018 -- "I don't think participating as a dancer would be allowed," he says -- the champ still hopes to be a part of that season in some way.
"There may be opportunities for other ways to be involved with it," Jennings, who said he would "definitely" say yes to an All-Star season if ABC asked him, shared. "We're working on that as a possibility."
And he already has a dream team lineup of athletes who he'd love to see compete on the show!
"I think they should go ahead and try to get Kobe Bryant on there," Jennings said of the 39-year-old athlete, who announced his retirement from the NBA with a heartfelt letter to basketball in November 2015. "I think the world would appreciate him in that space, showing his personality and doing something that he's not good at. When you think about Kobe, you think about greatness and dominance. If he doesn't know what he's doing? That's going to be hilarious."
He also mentioned NBA star Kyrie Irving, Giants wide receiver Sterling Shepard, Eagles quarterback Carson Wentz and safety Malcolm Jenkins, and Washington Redskins quarterback Kirk Cousins. "I think every football team has one player that could stand out," he explained. "I could easily pick 12 contestants that could be on the show, from dance ability to personality."
So, who does he think has what it takes to compete with his pro partner, Emma Slater?
"Nobody!" he joked. "That's my partner. That's just what it is."
Now that he's free from the NFL, Jennings told ET that in addition to dancing and his work with the Rashad Jennings Foundation, he's got a lot up his sleeves. He plans to do some acting, write a few books, work on a romance movie "similar to Hitch," get into the political space and utilize his platform for positivity.
"The people that follow me sincerely support me as a person, and I appreciate that," he exclaimed. "I want my fans to know that, I may not be able to get back to every single person, but their messages and comments never go unvalued. It's uplifting, it truly is."
"Stick with me," he added, "because life is just getting started for me."