Big man, big plans: John Jenkins brings size, personality to D-line

John Jenkins looks like he’s custom-built to be a nose tackle.

He stands 6-foot-3 and tips the scales at a robust 351 pounds. He has quick feet and fluid movement not often shown by a man that size.

Not surprisingly, football was not his first sport of choice as he grew up in Connecticut.

“If you ask anybody from back home,” Jenkins said. “The best sport — the one sport that I was actually good at — better than basketball, better than football, better than everything. Was BMX racing. I think I was better at that sport than I was at football.”

Jenkins has grown into one of the top nose tackles in the nation and a probable NFL draft pick. But that process started on the back of a bicycle in his home town of Meriden, Conn.

“That’s for real,” Jenkins’ mother Mary Ann Baker said. “We were out racing those bikes about every weekend and he was winning all kinds of trophies. Of course, he was the biggest kid on the course so I think some of the other kids were a little scared to race him. But yeah, he used to blow them away on the BMX track. We went every Saturday and he won first place a lot.”

Jenkins is a fun-loving guy who has become one of the most popular players on the team. He brings a positive attitude to practice that comes in handy during the drudgery of August two-a-days. But his prowess on the back of a bicycle comes as a bit of a surprise to his teammates.

“I don’t know what bike he’s riding,” Georgia linebacker Christian Robinson joked. “I’m not sure there’s one that could hold him. I definitely don’t want to see him trying to do a flip on one of those bikes.”

Jenkins came to Georgia as a junior college transfer and is in his senior season with Georgia. Although nose tackle is a position more often measured by how many blockers he ties up rather than takedowns accumulated, Jenkins is sixth on the team with 23 tackles. Jenkins’ ability to move his feet quickly enabled Georgia to press him into duty at defensive end when Abry Jones was injured. Georgia’s coaches plan to keep him in the rotation at defensive end even after Jones heals up.

“God was good to him from an athletic standpoint,” Georgia defensive line coach Rodney Garner said. “When we were recruiting him, you couldn’t help but notice this big, massive man who was still athletic and making plays. He could be a very disruptive guy. That’s what you saw when you looked at his film. That’s what you’re hoping when we got him here is that was going to translate over. Of course there was a learning curve and everything but I think the kid has worked really hard to put himself in this position.”

 

Big man for a big job

 

Jenkins came to Georgia from Gulf Coast Community College, Miss., a season after the Bulldogs switched to a 3-4 scheme in 2010. He was brought in to fill an immediate need for a big man in the middle who can’t be moved out of his position. He got off to a rough start because he wasn’t in good-enough condition. But as soon as Jenkins’ got into game shape, he had an effect on the practice field.

“John is just a dominant force,” Georgia guard Chris Burnette said. “He is probably the heaviest guy I’ve ever had to block. If you have to try to block him on a bull rush, you’re just hoping you can slow him down just enough because he’s that type of player. He is big and he is strong and he cam really move out there. You don’t see that combination a whole lot.”

No matter how dreary the situation, Jenkins manages to bring positive energy that brightens everybody’s day.

He has a knack for picking up not only his teammates’ spirits, but his coaches as well. Garner usually starts the defensive line meetings by asking everybody what they’ve been doing that day more out of courtesy than a real need to know. But Jenkins sometimes will fill in the minutiae of every action whether Garner wants to hear it or not.

“John is a people person, he’ll talk to you about anything,” Georgia defensive end Abry Jones said. “He’s always laughing. He’s always got a smile for everybody. He’s just a really fun guy to be around. When we’re in the meeting room, Coach G (Garner) will ask everybody about how their day went. Most people will just say that it’s fine or its OK or, ‘I had a test,’ or something like that. But John will go off into a whole story with a couple of back-stories and everything. That’s always a real treat for us. It always gets a good laugh. It’s usually about what he did that day. When he gets going, we just turn around and tell him that Coach was just asking how you were. That’s too much information.”

 

Jenkins’ size captures attention

 

Although Jenkins hasn’t always been as big as he is now, he’s been bigger than most. Jenkins went through food and clothes almost as fast as his family could buy them. Baker would have to replace his clothes sometimes twice a year to keep up with his growth spurts. Whenever Baker saw stress tears around the arms of his shirts or the seams of his shoes busting loose, it was time to get him a new wardrobe.

“It was really hard keeping clothes on him,” Baker said. “And when he started getting big, his appetite grew. We’d be at the dinner table and he’d say, ‘Mom, is there any more?’ I’d just look at him and say, ‘John, there was a whole big pot and you ate all of it. Now you want more?’ He’s got a younger brother Chris and we’d tell Chris to make his plate first because once John got home, it was going to be gone.”

Big kids with energy levels to match their size can also be rough on furniture. Although Baker had many discussions with Jenkins about lowering himself into a chair instead of dropping, Jenkins once broke his mother’s bed just by sitting on it.

“He said, ‘Mom, I just sat down, I didn’t plop down or anything,’” Baker said. “Springs in couches didn’t last very long around him either. But then he started to realize his size and weight. So he’d look at the furniture before he sat down and if he had any question, he’d just stand instead.”

Jenkins’ size and perpetual smile give him a teddy bear quality that would make him a good candidate for a baby sitter. But that easy-going demeanor disappears when he walks onto a field and gets a chance to hit somebody.

“Coach G has these little daughters and they gave him the nickname ‘Huggy Bear’ because he’s so huggable,” Robinson said. “He’s one of those guys who is really easy to get along with and is really sociable off of the field. But on the field, he’ll body-slam you. I remember last year in a game he picked somebody up and just threw them. I remember saying, ‘That’s not Huggy Bear.’ But he’s definitely a great player for us and he works hard.”

 

Future already mapped

 

Jenkins left home for the Deep South on a leap of faith. But he also had a plan. Jenkins wants to complete his degree in child and family development first and foremost. He also knows how he wants to spend money he might make in the NFL the correct way.

“I’ve already got a 10-year plan,” Jenkins said. “I definitely want to get my degree. That’s first. I want to play in the NFL and I want to play to my second contract. I’m fairly well-known around the Boys and Girls Club back home. So when I get to my second contract, I want to start a foundation and establish some scholarships in my name back home. I just don’t want to reach out to the sports side. I want to reach out to everybody. I want to establish camps and things like that. But I also want to establish academics scholarships too. Not everybody can play a sport but everybody can go to school. I want to help kids back home go to school.”

Jenkins’ ultimate dream is to make enough money so he can follow in the footsteps of previous generations of young vagabonds took exotic vacations with nothing more than what they could carry on their backs.

“I want to go into a sporting goods store and buy the biggest backpack I can find and buy a one-way ticket overseas,” Jenkins said. “I just want to be able to land somewhere overseas, I don’t care where, and just backpack wherever the road takes me. I want to have the money to travel and do whatever I want to do. Just fill up a backpack and every time I see something I like, just send it back home. After that, it’s time to start a family, have a white picket fence with two dogs. That’s what I want to do.”