MERIDEN, Conn. — John Jenkins didn’t take part in the hype and spectacle of National Signing Day on Feb. 2.
Commanding, or demanding, the spotlight isn’t his style.
Instead, he opted to sign his letter of intent to play for Georgia in front of a small group of family and friends in his hometown Saturday at Francis T. Maloney High School.
After all, when you’re 6-foot-4, 353 pounds, you don’t need special effects to draw extra attention.
“I chose Georgia because it was just a feeling I got,” Jenkins said. “From an emotional standpoint, I just had that feeling about Athens.”
“It’s official,” said Mary Baker, Jenkins’ mother. “I couldn’t be any prouder.”
Georgia head coach Mark Richt and defensive coordinator Todd Grantham sold Jenkins on filling “the key role at nose tackle” in the Bulldogs’ 3-4 defensive scheme.
“Georgia was the best fit for me playing-wise and the scheme,” Jenkins said. “Georgia will be the best place for me. My family and I both agreed on that.”
Georgia’s defensive front often struggled in its first year under Grantham’s new defense. Of particular concern was that the Bulldogs lacked a true nose tackle who could anchor the line and take on double teams from opposing linemen.
With Jenkins on board, the Bulldogs’ coaches hope that will no longer be an issue.
“Going into it, he was a guy that we targeted that we thought would be the answer to a lot of our problems,” said Georgia recruiting coordinator and defensive line coach Rodney Garner. “We thought he would solidify the defensive front by giving us the ability to move DeAngelo (Tyson) to defensive end, which would be a much more natural fit for him.
“We feel like if we put him and Abry (Jones) at the end spot and Big John at the middle right there, instantly it adds a lot of stability to our defense.”
Jenkins admits he didn’t know much about Georgia — the state or the University — before the recruiting process began. Now, after visiting Athens on Jan. 21, Jenkins could see himself residing in the Peach State for years to come.
“It was more of just the way I felt and how I felt I could adjust,” he said. “I asked myself, ‘If things didn’t work with football, could I still see myself going to that school and living in that town?’ ”
Georgia beat out Florida for Jenkins’ services. Oklahoma State, Auburn and Miami also actively recruited him up to the last minute.
“I went to Georgia first for my visit, and I got the chance to compare apples to apples by visiting Florida right after that. It wasn’t like I was hazy with my decision. I went right to Florida right after Georgia.”
Jenkins said the final decision came down to comfort, and he felt more “at home” at Georgia because of Richt.
“Coach Richt is a genuine guy,” Jenkins said. “He and I just had a special bond. He came out and we talked, but we just vibed with each other. We played pool and had a competition going on. There was just something about our vibe. I hear from other people that he is a competitor. It was a special bond.”
It might have helped that Richt and his staff are willing to even toy with the idea of Jenkins playing on offense, as well, an option that would allow him to wear his preferred jersey number, 6.
“There might be a play or two for him,” Grantham laughed. “If you look back, there’s been some big guys that have lined up in the backfield before.”
Few of those big guys wore a single-digit jersey number, however, typically lurking somewhere on the other end of the numeric spectrum with numbers more suited to their oversized frames.
As for Jenkins wearing No. 6, Grantham said, “I think he’ll stretch it pretty good.”
Jenkins graduated from Maloney High School in 2008. He played defensive end at a then-slim 290 pounds. He even carried the football as a running back on occasion, scoring four touchdowns his senior year.
“He was raw back then,” Maloney head coach Bob Zito said. “He was so athletic that we were able to use him all over the place. He played a little bit of everything for us, from defensive line to even safety and running back.”
Jenkins enrolled at Gulf Coast Community College in Mississippi out of high school because of insufficient grades. The extended stay in the South was the first time Jenkins was away from home for a long period of time.
He says he flourished individually, and the team was equally successful. Gulf Coast was 19-5 in Jenkins’ two seasons there.
“I gained a better understanding of the game,” he said. “I had a great coaching staff out there. They made me understand how to win. They taught me how to work hard. They taught me how to do everything the right way.”
Said Zito: “He became a man. I’m not saying he was running with terrible kids up here, but going to Mississippi was good for John. He wasn’t always doing the right things all the time. He became a man when he went down there.”
He also earned some lofty praise with his play. His junior college coach, Steve Campbell, compares Jenkins to another of his former players — Terrence Cody, the enormous noseguard who went on to lead Alabama to the 2009 national championship.
“(Campbell) makes that comparison a lot,” Garner said. “Obviously John’s gotta do it on this level. He thinks John may be more athletic. That’s what we hope. We’re excited that hopefully he’s gonna develop and have that kinda career.”
Jenkins will have three years to play two seasons at Georgia. For now, he says he’s “at peace and happy” with his decision to become a Bulldog.
“It’s overwhelming, but the experience has been fun,” he said. “You can’t really share this experience. You can’t really expect people to understand what you’re doing. It’s something you have to do for yourself.”
— David Ching contributed to this report