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Sunday, August 30, 2009

One brother carries on at Kennedy

Seattle Times staff reporter

BURIEN — Stuart and L.J. Jennings love putting on their lava-lavas.

Dressing in the traditional Samoan garb is part of their family tradition. When Kennedy High School has its annual Cultural Assembly, the Jennings brothers are in full form, performing the Haka, a Maori war dance, and singing.

Especially singing.

"Girls really like the songs," Stuart says with a big smile.

He and L.J. are known for their vocals and both sing in Kennedy's select choir, Excalibur.

"They're very good, very talented," Kennedy senior Tony Valencia said.

The duo is equally talented on the football field, where they go from singing to stinging. Both were part of a Kennedy team that finished 9-2 last season and both were expected to be impact players on this year's seventh-ranked squad.

But then Stuart, now a senior, tore his ACL and had surgery on his left knee earlier this month, which still has coach Bob Bourgette singing the blues.

"You don't replace a Stuart Jennings," he said.

Stuart (6 feet 2, 240 pounds) was an All-Seamount first-team choice at guard and defensive end as a junior last season. With good speed, he was getting recruiting attention from a few Pac-10 schools as well as others like Minnesota and Air Force.

L.J. (6 feet, 193), a junior who returns at halfback and linebacker, was as devastated as his brother when they learned that Stuart would miss this season.

"It was like losing a loved one," said L.J., whose initials stand for Liuilealofa Jennings.

Stuart said the news "felt like someone stabbed me a million times in my heart."

The two are very close — they say they are each other's best friend. They have no other siblings but enjoy an extremely large extended family, where weekend gatherings can reach 100 "on a bad day," according to Stuart.

Their father, Liu, used to own a restaurant in California and is an outstanding cook, according to the boys. He stays home to watch over them and "make sure we don't get in any trouble," L.J. said. Their mother, Pou, is a nurse. Both are big Kennedy football fans and Bourgette said it was almost like a funeral march when they came to tell him Stuart would miss the season.

"They just felt horrible," Bourgette said. "It's just a great family."

Stuart had knee trouble last year, but MRIs showed no damage. He sat out most of the Lancers' first-round playoff game against Liberty of Issaquah, when they let a 17-0 lead slip away and were eliminated. Finally, at the UW football camp last month, he felt a pop and knew he was in trouble. This time, an MRI showed severe damage, the ACL tear and two meniscus tears.

Stuart still attends every practice and will serve as one of Kennedy's team captains this season, taking part in pregame coin flips.

"It's hard, but I'm still glad I'm here to support this team, because we're just a family and we care for each other," he said. "I just have to move on with my life. I never quit."

L.J. said the team still considers Stuart an integral member.

"He's still our captain, so nothing changes," he said.

Yet a lot has changed for both brothers. L.J. will play for the two of them.

"I play for him and just make sure I do my job and pick up the slack a little bit," L.J. said.

And at least for Stuart this fall, there will be more singing than stinging.

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