By Josh Barr
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, February 4, 2009
All-Met Defensive Player of the Year Jelani Jenkins, a linebacker at Good Counsel High and one of the nation's most sought-after high school football recruits, is expected to sign a national letter-of-intent today to play for national champion Florida, according to multiple sources close to the situation.
"That's where he is going," one source said on the condition of anonymity. Jenkins intends to make his choice official at a signing ceremony this morning at the Olney school that will be broadcast by ESPNU.
Jenkins, a 6-foot-1, 210-pound senior, also strongly considered Penn State. He has kept his college plans a tightly held secret, and will announce his choice today before a schoolwide assembly. Today is the first day of the letter-of-intent signing period for high school seniors to formally accept college football scholarship offers.
"The whole school is going to be there," Good Counsel Coach Bob Milloy said. "I'll be glad when it's 2 o'clock. I can't tell you how many media calls I've gotten. I have not asked him [which school he has picked]. I don't want to put any pressure on him. The way I look at it, neither [Florida or Penn State] are bad programs. Whatever it is, it is."
Across the area and throughout the nation, scores of players will sign their paperwork and then fax it to the colleges of their choice. Most players made their selections long ago, with Penn State joining regional favorites Maryland, Virginia and Virginia Tech in the chase for many of the top local players.
Among the area's most highly regarded players, Brooke Point defensive end Lanford Collins this past weekend chose Virginia Tech, while Forestville defensive end DeOnte' Arnett picked Maryland last summer. Quince Orchard All-Met defensive back Travis Hawkins came aboard for the Terrapins in late October, while teammate Jason Ankrah pledged for Nebraska just before Christmas.
A handful of players today will announce their choices, including St. John's All-Met lineman Pete White and Stonewall Jackson running back Damien Thigpen. White has narrowed his list to Maryland, Miami and Tennessee. Thigpen, previously committed to Tennessee, is thought to be considering Notre Dame and UCLA.
Neither of those players, however, has the star power of Jenkins, who is regarded as one of the nation's elite players. He has excellent size, speed and strength and projects to be an impact player in college. He had 101 tackles this past season, leading Good Counsel to an undefeated regular season and a berth in the Washington Catholic Athletic Conference championship game.
The NCAA permits recruits to take five college-paid visits to campuses, but Jenkins used just two of these visits, traveling to Florida in December and Penn State last month. Florida Coach Urban Meyer visited Good Counsel last month, followed by Penn State assistant Larry Johnson, well known for his success recruiting around the Beltway.
Jenkins also took several unpaid campus visits last summer, traveling to many of the nation's top programs, nearly all of which had offered scholarships. He eventually began to whittle down his list before finally coming to a decision.
Penn State has done extremely well recruiting locally, with Johnson receiving much of the credit. The Nittany Lions' recruiting class is expected to include eight Washington area players, including Jenkins's good friend and Good Counsel teammate, cornerback Mike Wallace.
Florida does not hit the Washington area nearly as hard, but local players that have headed to Gainesville have found success. Joe Haden, the All-Met Offensive Player of the Year at Friendly in 2007, is a starting cornerback for the Gators, while 2003 All-Met defensive end Derrick Harvey just finished his rookie season with the NFL's Jacksonville Jaguars.