Parlier High hires young assistant as new football coach

Georgia native CJ Jennings, 25, aims for a gridiron revival at Parlier High School with a fresh perspective, commitment to student development

New Parlier High football coach CJ Jennings stands next to the school mascot logo in the team’s weight room facility on April 18. The 25-year-old Georgia native played Division II and III and even Arena football, coaching briefly at the collegiate level before serving the past two years as an assistant at Bullard High in Fresno. (Jon Earnest)
New Parlier High football coach CJ Jennings stands next to the school mascot logo in the team’s weight room facility on April 18. The 25-year-old Georgia native played Division II and III and even Arena football, coaching briefly at the collegiate level before serving the past two years as an assistant at Bullard High in Fresno. (Jon Earnest)
Jon Earnest
Published April 19, 2024  • 
11:00 am

PARLIER – Parlier High School is going with a young-yet-experienced assistant coach in an effort to turn around and build the school’s football program.

School officials late last week announced the hiring of TJ Jennings — most recently the defensive coordinator at Bullard High in Fresno — as head coach. The 25-year-old Georgia native already has coaching experience at the Division II and III levels, most recently at D-III Fitchburg State University in Massachusetts.

“The biggest thing about Parlier that excited me is it was more of a challenge,” he said in a Thursday afternoon interview on the PHS campus. “These kids want to be pushed so far that you have to build them back up and then push again, because they don’t know their body limits. If you demand that from them, I think they can give it all to you.”

Jenna Chavez, Parlier High School principal, said Jennings’ relatability and commitment to the players both on and off the field was a big factor in the hiring of him for his first heading coaching assignment.

“(What stood out) when we did the interview is how student focused he is,” she said. “We talked about development of fundamentals, but it also was the development of young men rising to the occasion and getting them where they needed to be. Not just skill-wise but in life lessons. He was very confident in his ability to coach and lead.”

Brian Fonseca, Parlier High athletic director, said Jennings brings a fresh perspective to the goal of building the Panthers’ football program. The school hasn’t had a winning season on varsity since 2008, and has gone 9-81 in the past decade (including five winless campaigns) under seven different coaches.

“He’s young and he’s got a plan, and I think the kids are going to really relate to him,” Fonseca said. “He seems to balance intensity and discipline, (and) he has some qualities that people are going to gravitate to.”

Jennings is a self-described “military kid” whose father is a major chief in the U.S. Navy, and he said that’s where his personal discipline and character were molded. He grew up in Gwinnett County in Georgia, moved to Arizona and graduated from O’Connor High School in 2016.

In college Jennings played as a receiver, defensive back and finally linebacker at Division II Adams State University in Colorado and Southwestern Oklahoma State University. In 2020 during the COVID-19 pandemic, he became one of 12 first-time graduate assistants at Friends University in Wichita, Kansas, and eventually worked his way to becoming special teams coordinator/JUCO coordinator and defensive backs coach.

During his GA stint, Jennings also managed to play in the spring for the Wichita Force Arena Football team. He briefly was defensive coordinator and linebackers coach at Fitchburg State before a head coaching change led to his move west. He came to California in May 2022, when he accepted a job with Bullard to be the defensive coordinator and recruiting coordinator under veteran coach Don Arax.

When Arax (now at Central Valley Christian in Visalia) was let go as coach of the Bullard program at the midpoint of the 2023 season, Jennings held down the interim head coach post along with Sumner Manock (now offensive coordinator at Clovis West) as the team finished 1-4.

Jennings said his college football playing and coaching experience helps give him an advantage when it comes to connections in the collegiate game. At Bullard, he helped take players to a tour of 13 Division I facilities, including Oregon, Oregon State, UNLV and Cal Poly among others.

Jennings has one more Bullard commitment the rest of the school year, as he coaches the girls track team featuring highly-ranked Central Section athletes Gabi Beli and Isabella Ramirez among others. But he’s looking forward to getting started helping build the foundation of the program.

Already, the young coach has made his mark interacting with the players and students as he walks the campus. He’s encouraging student-athletes in more than one sport to continue their involvement while also deepening their football relationship.

One of Jennings’ primary goals is to make Parlier into a football town and a weekly community destination in the fall seasons.

“My biggest thing is: if you set an expectation and demand it, then the kids have to meet it,” he said. “I’m not afraid to take (the challenge) on; looking at the town and knowing it can be one town, one team. Within a year or two, I want everybody’s Friday night to be booked as ‘we’re watching Parlier’ and that’s what we’re doing.”

Jon Earnest
Reporter