Supportive 'Team' Keeps Jenkins in the Moment
Thursday, October 2, 2008
Somewhere amid the squadron of umbrellas that filled Good Counsel's football stadium, the key members of Jelani Jenkins's supporting cast watched the product of their work in all his glory. This, they said, was the plan executed to perfection. There was Jenkins, dressed in navy and gold, No. 3, the linebacker with the neck roll trotting calmly to the sideline as his teammates burst onto the field in an array of mid-air shoulder bumps, hand slaps and primal screams.
That game, last Friday against an overmatched Paul VI Catholic team, was his only concern. Jenkins's off-the-field team had streamlined nearly every aspect of his life so that whichever unfortunate soul carrying the ball in a Paul VI jersey was the sole object of his attention.
Not coaches from the nearly three dozen division I-A universities that have offered Jenkins a scholarship. Not recruiting analysts from the Web sites that have ranked the 6-foot-1, 220-pound All-Met among the top 10 high school football players in the class of 2009. Not strangers from cyberspace who just want Jenkins to know that their school is the one for him.
Tonight, Good Counsel hosts DeMatha in a sold-out game at its campus in Olney that will be televised on ESPN2. The game will introduce Jenkins to a national audience for the first time, but it will not distract him from his college decision.
He will make that choice on his own schedule, not that of his pursuers. And he will make it with the guidance of a family that has worked for the past 16 years to raise Jenkins in a nurturing, in some ways secluded, environment. The foundation Jenkins's supporters have laid will not be shaken, despite an immense volume and variety of attention none of them saw coming.
"We want him to be presented in the right light," said Stephanie Hall, Jenkins's mother. "That is real important to us."
They each have roles, Hall said. She and her husband, Ernest, funnel the flood of information-seekers away from Jenkins, so that he may be better suited to maintain his 3.9 GPA and live as normal a life as a well-known, 16-year-old high school senior can live.
Her oldest son, Shomari Jenkins, said he is the voice in Jelani's ear. If a college coach is feeding Jelani a line, Shomari will make sure his younger brother knows it.
And then there's Jelani's father, Maurice Jenkins, the finely dressed entrepreneur whose background as both an artist and architect best qualifies him to manage the whole process. He leaned against the fence surrounding Good Counsel's field 20 minutes before kickoff against Paul VI and watched his son run through pregame drills.
Minutes earlier, he had met with coaches from Notre Dame and Maryland who had come to watch Jelani. Hours earlier, he had spoken to UCLA Coach Rick Neuheisel on the phone. Days earlier, he had chatted with a coach from Michigan, one of a handful of recruiters he said he's in touch with about once a week.
Most teams see Jelani as a weak-side linebacker in college, a player who can help contain opposing spread offenses. After viewing Oregon State's upset over then-No. 1 Southern California the night before, Maurice said he better understood that line of thinking.
"I can see why Jelani is such a commodity," he said. "It's that lateral speed. A lot of linebackers are that Butkus type, where if you get within five yards of me, I'll knock your head off. But what teams are looking for is that sideline-to-sideline speed, that kind Jelani's got."