MERIDEN, Conn. ‚Äî John Jenkins didn‚Äôt take part in the hype and spectacle of National Signing Day on Feb. 2.
Commanding, or demanding, the spotlight isn‚Äôt 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‚Äôre 6-foot-4, 353 pounds, you don‚Äôt need special effects to draw extra attention.
‚ÄúI chose Georgia because it was just a feeling I got,‚Äù Jenkins said. ‚ÄúFrom an emotional standpoint, I just had that feeling about Athens.‚Äù
‚ÄúIt‚Äôs official,‚Äù said Mary Baker, Jenkins‚Äô mother. ‚ÄúI couldn‚Äôt be any prouder.‚Äù
Georgia head coach Mark Richt and defensive coordinator Todd Grantham sold Jenkins on filling ‚Äúthe key role at nose tackle‚Äù in the Bulldogs‚Äô 3-4 defensive scheme.
‚ÄúGeorgia was the best fit for me playing-wise and the scheme,‚Äù Jenkins said. ‚ÄúGeorgia will be the best place for me. My family and I both agreed on that.‚Äù
Georgia‚Äôs defensive front often struggled in its first year under Grantham‚Äôs 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‚Äô coaches hope that will no longer be an issue.
‚ÄúGoing into it, he was a guy that we targeted that we thought would be the answer to a lot of our problems,‚Äù said Georgia recruiting coordinator and defensive line coach Rodney Garner. ‚ÄúWe 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.
‚ÄúWe 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.‚Äù
Jenkins admits he didn‚Äôt know much about Georgia ‚Äî the state or the University ‚Äî 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.
‚ÄúIt was more of just the way I felt and how I felt I could adjust,‚Äù he said. ‚ÄúI asked myself, ‚ÄòIf things didn‚Äôt work with football, could I still see myself going to that school and living in that town?‚Äô ‚Äù
Georgia beat out Florida for Jenkins‚Äô services. Oklahoma State, Auburn and Miami also actively recruited him up to the last minute.
‚ÄúI 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‚Äôt like I was hazy with my decision. I went right to Florida right after Georgia.‚Äù
Jenkins said the final decision came down to comfort, and he felt more ‚Äúat home‚Äù at Georgia because of Richt.
‚ÄúCoach Richt is a genuine guy,‚Äù Jenkins said. ‚ÄúHe 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.‚Äù
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.
‚ÄúThere might be a play or two for him,‚Äù Grantham laughed. ‚ÄúIf you look back, there‚Äôs been some big guys that have lined up in the backfield before.‚Äù
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, ‚ÄúI think he‚Äôll stretch it pretty good.‚Äù
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.
‚ÄúHe was raw back then,‚Äù Maloney head coach Bob Zito said. ‚ÄúHe 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.‚Äù
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‚Äô two seasons there.
‚ÄúI gained a better understanding of the game,‚Äù he said. ‚ÄúI 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.‚Äù
Said Zito: ‚ÄúHe became a man. I‚Äôm not saying he was running with terrible kids up here, but going to Mississippi was good for John. He wasn‚Äôt always doing the right things all the time. He became a man when he went down there.‚Äù
He also earned some lofty praise with his play. His junior college coach, Steve Campbell, compares Jenkins to another of his former players ‚Äî Terrence Cody, the enormous noseguard who went on to lead Alabama to the 2009 national championship.
‚Äú(Campbell) makes that comparison a lot,‚Äù Garner said. ‚ÄúObviously John‚Äôs gotta do it on this level. He thinks John may be more athletic. That‚Äôs what we hope. We‚Äôre excited that hopefully he‚Äôs gonna develop and have that kinda career.‚Äù
Jenkins will have three years to play two seasons at Georgia. For now, he says he‚Äôs ‚Äúat peace and happy‚Äù with his decision to become a Bulldog.
‚ÄúIt‚Äôs overwhelming, but the experience has been fun,‚Äù he said. ‚ÄúYou can‚Äôt really share this experience. You can‚Äôt really expect people to understand what you‚Äôre doing. It‚Äôs something you have to do for yourself.‚Äù
‚Äî David Ching contributed to this report