Jenkins, Others Sign on the Dotted Line

Jelani Jenkins, a linebacker at Good Counsel, the All-Met Defensive Player of the Year and one of the nation's top recruits, will reportedly sign a national letter of intent to attend Florida on Wednesday.
Jelani Jenkins, a linebacker at Good Counsel, the All-Met Defensive Player of the Year and one of the nation's top recruits, will reportedly sign a national letter of intent to attend Florida on Wednesday. (Toni L. Sandys - TWP)

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By Josh Barr
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, February 5, 2009

Stepping onto a stage from behind a navy curtain yesterday, Jelani Jenkins smiled as he took a seat front and center. The gymnasium was full of Good Counsel students and faculty, and plenty of media members had their eyes and cameras trained on the All-Met Defensive Player of the Year as he prepared to deliver the news that he would accept a scholarship offer to play football for the University of Florida.

Sitting on either side of Jenkins were two teammates, also bearing toothy smiles and enjoying the moment. But it was clear the spotlight was squarely on Jenkins as he put on a white fitted baseball cap with a blue-outlined "F" on the front and an embroidered "Jelani Jenkins #3" on the back.

"It was definitely exciting, everything I thought it would be," Jenkins said of the carefully scripted moment. "I knew it would be crazy."

Yesterday was the first day that high school seniors could sign national letters-of-intent to formally accept college football scholarships. Among area players making their college choices public, All-Met offensive lineman Pete White (St. John's) signed with Maryland, Meade quarterback Ray Cotton signed with Mississippi and Stonewall Jackson running back Damien Thigpen signed with UCLA.

In all, more than 100 other Washington area high school seniors signed paperwork to accept division I-A or I-AA football scholarships. Maryland and Penn State each signed nine local players.

While most of the players made their decisions known ahead of time, Jenkins kept his choice a secret, even wearing a Penn State sweatshirt at school earlier this week. However, he said his mind was made up well in advance. Jenkins said he settled on Florida after Gators Coach Urban Meyer made an in-home visit last month and answered any questions Jenkins still had, such as his future position (weak-side linebacker).

The 6-foot-2, 210-pound senior said he notified Meyer in a phone call last week of his decision to pick the Gators over Penn State.

"He said he wanted to jump up and down and scream in the street," Jenkins said. "But I told him I wanted to keep it under wraps."

Jenkins's signing was the main event of an extraordinary student assembly at the Olney private school.

Good Counsel Athletic Director Pat Bates at times looked like a game show host as he used a wireless microphone to ask the other players on stage of their plans before Jenkins took his turn for the television cameras.

"Individually, I told some teachers this is a part of the high school experience the kids will remember and connect with," Bates said. "They might not remember chemistry class, but they will remember being in the gym when Jelani Jenkins announced."

After running back Caleb Porzel (Maryland), defensive back Mike Wallace (Penn State), lineman Devin Gordon-Hamm (Bucknell) and place kicker Mark Hamilton (Villanova) announced their future plans, Jenkins sat before a bank of microphones to let everyone in on his decision, patiently waiting for the broadcast to come to him.

Jenkins then read from a two-page prepared statement -- he said it took him about five hours to write, with help from his family -- thanking God and several relatives and friends for helping him to this point. Jenkins then paused and pulled on the hat. Several family members standing behind Jenkins also put on Florida hats and his father, Maurice, later distributed a three-page press release with a color photo on the front.

Good Counsel Coach Bob Milloy, in his 48th year coaching high school sports, said he had never encountered anything like it.

"But it's a changing world, with the Internet and all," Milloy said. "That's how it's done nowadays."

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