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Chris White: Freshman LB Jenkins garnering well-deserved praise from coaches, teammates

Overachievement seems to be Jordan Jenkins’ thing.

He was bigger and faster than his teammates at an early age, and his high school coach described him as a man among boys by the time Jenkins was a freshman. He set new school records in the weight room and blew away the competition at combines. And the Georgia freshman outside linebacker already has a college start under his belt.

The last few months have been almost too much to take in, said Jenkins, a former Harris County High defensive end and linebacker ranked by some recruiting services as the state’s No. 1 overall prospect in 2012. He had his pick of college football’s premier programs, and he chose Georgia over Alabama about a month before national signing day.

Jenkins cited depth, or the lack of it, as one of the reasons he chose Georgia. Yet he said he didn’t expect to hear his name called out with the starters so early in his career, even if it was as a fill-in for All-American Jarvis Jones, who sat out Saturday’s game against Florida Atlantic to rest an injured groin.

Through three games, Jenkins has tallied nine tackles, including one for loss, four quarterback hurries and a pass breakup. He’s modest about the success he’s had so far, but the more fiery side of his attitude and his enthusiastic approach to improvement fit well with defensive coordinator Todd Grantham, whose intense demeanor and talk of opportunity swayed Jenkins to sign with Georgia.

It’s maybe more telling that Jenkins has swayed Grantham into praising a freshman and trusting him to start in place Jones.

“Jordan’s a good player, and he’s going to continue to get better,” Grantham said after the 56-20 victory over Florida Atlantic. “(Saturday’s) game is good for him. The more guys play, the more depth you create. And you can mix and match packages as you move down the road, so I think he played well. I think he’s a very mature guy for his age, and he’ll continue to get better the more he plays, so we’re just going to continue to play him and develop him.”

Jenkins’ teammates have piled on the kind words, pointing to his almost immediate transition into a leadership role among the freshmen and with his work ethic the weight room.

Once the season started, his on-field performance raised a few eyebrows among the veterans, as well. Jenkins came close to a sack several times in the opener against Buffalo, and his fourth-quarter fumble recovery at the Missouri 5-yard line helped ice Tigers the following week. He had the best opportunity against FAU and came away with three tackles — one solo — a pass breakup and three quarterback hurries.

Jenkins said it has been an exhilarating start to his career, and he is deserving of the overflow of emotion after each big play, nose tackle John Jenkins said.

“He should feel that way, and it’s exciting for us and all the guys to see that because we see that he’s working, he’s trying to contribute to the team and he’s trying to do what he can to help win the game,” John Jenkins said. “We like to see that.”

The 6-foot-3, 257-pound linebacker said he first heard he may be starting the Wednesday before the FAU game but was in disbelief until Thursday, when coaches gave him the nod to fill in for Jones. It wasn’t the first vote of approval from his coaches, but he was surprised by the amount of confidence from his coaches and teammates.

It hasn’t come easy, but it has come fast, he said, and it all feels like a better fit each week.

“I definitely feel comfortable,” Jenkins said after Saturday’s game. “I definitely feel like I’m beginning to sort of contribute. After (Saturday’s game against FAU), I know I’ve got to play against the cut block better and be ready for upcoming games, because I don’t feel like I played to the best of my ability. But I’m still happy as hell I got to start this game.”

As much as his teammates appreciate his contributions, Jenkins said he’s even more appreciative of their guidance. The defensive veterans have taken him — and many of the freshmen — under their wings and are helping build a foundation that will only improve on what the Bulldogs have now, Jenkins said.

“I feel like we’re getting something from playing with (the veterans), just by being able to watch them and not sit out a year,” Jenkins said. “In the next couple of years, we’re going to have a hellacious defense.”

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