Two years ago, as a sophomore at Perry Central High School, Jaren Handy was content with sitting at home on Friday nights. That is, until his grandmother, Linda, intervened with some guidance.
“She [Linda] was like, ‘Go do something productive. Your daddy played football and he was pretty good at it, so why don’t you give it a shot?’”
Handy’s father, LeRoy, played wide receiver at Southern Miss from 1999-2002. He passed away when Jaren was just 11-years-old. More recently, Jaren lost his grandma in the summer of 2017.
“It was tough,” Handy said. “That hurt me because when I needed her, she helped me, but when she needed me, I couldn’t do anything about it.”
There’s not a day that goes by where Handy doesn’t think about her and the advice she shared with him. After a one-year hiatus from football in 2016, Handy joined Perry Central’s team as a junior the next year. What followed was a dominant display each and every week from Handy, who finished his debut season with 15 quarterback sacks from his defensive end spot.
It didn’t take long for colleges to take notice. Mississippi State offered Handy his first Division I scholarship, and he’s picked up nearly two dozen others since. The most he’s picked up in a single day is four (Alabama, LSU, Florida and Texas A&M).
“That was a wild day right there,” Handy said with a laugh.
For each one—no matter the conference or level of football—Handy thanks his grandma.
“If it wasn’t for her, I wouldn’t be playing football, and I wouldn’t have that offer.”
After a stellar season at Perry Central, Handy moved to Hattiesburg High School for his senior year in 2018. Going from Class 2A competition to 5A was a bit of an adjustment, but other than that, it was pretty much a seamless transition for Handy, who wasn’t new to the school. He actually went and played there up until his sophomore year away from the game.
Hattiesburg coach Tony Vance vividly remembers Handy as an eighth grader. At 6-foot-1, he towered above his fellow classmates and proved to be an affective wide receiver just like his dad.
“I just remember throwing the fade ball to him [Handy] and watching him come down with it,” Vance said. “I tell people all the time he’s a wide receiver trapped in a defensive end’s body. He’s very athletic and can run.”
Today, Handy stands at 6-foot-5 and 278 pounds, according to 247 Sports.
Handy admits that when he arrived back at Hattiesburg he was “out of shape” and “fat”. But leading up to this season, something clicked for him. “I just wanna help my family out.”
Through 10 games, Handy leads the undefeated Tigers in quarterback sacks (4) and tackles for loss (13).
“He [Handy] is a guy that’s playing with a purpose,” Vance said. “He’s a guy that’s playing with a chip on his shoulder so to speak. I think in some people’s eyes and mine, sometimes he’s overlooked.
“We’re proud of him and certainly proud he’s back home in Hattiesburg.”
As for his recruitment, Handy is currently committed to Auburn, but he says that he’s still open to other schools.