Even now, nearly two months after the Washington Redskins used the 41st overall pick in the NFL draft on Jarvis Jenkins, Larry Jenkins has to fight back tears when he thinks of his son’s journey to the NFL.
The younger Jenkins displayed great potential on the field early in his career at D.W. Daniel High School in Central, S.C. He started receiving recruiting letters from Clemson as a sophomore. But his performance in the classroom was going to prevent him from going anywhere.
“I remember sitting him down as a sophomore, sharing with him the importance of hard work, what he had the chance to become, how he could have a better life,” recalled a choked-up Larry Jenkins, who works at Borg-Warner, a transmission manufacturing plant near Clemson. “I’ve worked hard all my life and did what I had to do to provide for my family. But I told Jarvis he had the opportunity to do something special.”
About the same time, the elder Jenkins said he sought the help of local legend Jeff Davis, a former linebacker who captained Clemson’s 1981 national championship team and played six seasons for the NFL’s Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Davis was working at Clemson as field director of “Call Me Mister” — a program that works to recruit and train African American males as elementary school teachers. Maybe Davis, whose daughters went to school with Jarvis, could help, Larry Jenkins figured.
“I saw a young man that was a little lazy, and didn’t commit himself in the classroom,” said Davis, now Clemson’s assistant athletic director for player relations and external affairs. “We talked about school, we talked about football, we talked about life. I had a desire to do for this young man what had been done for me.”
Davis met with Jenkins at his high school three times a week. Much of what he said was similar to what guidance counselors had been telling Jenkins. But Davis was a black male who had played for Clemson and in the NFL, and something clicked.
“He . . . applied himself and really matured,” Larry Jenkins said of his son. “I really knew he had grown up by his senior year, when he didn’t want to go to the beach for their senior trip. My brother and I had put money together for him to be able to go. Jarvis said he didn’t want to waste money and stayed home and worked out.”
Jenkins saw action as a freshman at Clemson and started during his final three years. He earned first-team all-ACC honors as a senior.
According to Clemson Coach Dabo Swinney, Jenkins wasn’t NFL material when he first arrived on campus.
“He wasn’t a great player when he first got here,” Swinney said. “But he’s a guy that got better and better every year. . . . He really developed his body and developed great practice habits. . . . He takes coaching well. He seeks it.”
The Redskins plan to move Jenkins from tackle to end, but Jenkins said he doesn’t mind. Nor does it bother him that an end in a 3-4 defense mostly is asked to take on double-teams to free linebackers, who chase the quarterback. Taking on multiple blockers at Clemson while Da’Quan Bowers posted 151 / 2 sacks got Jenkins used to that. Bowers was drafted by Tampa Bay 10 picks after Jenkins.
Jenkins “knows how important his role is,” Swinney says. “Da’Quan is a great player and deserves all the attention he got for those 151 / 2 sacks. But a big reason for all of that is what was going on inside there on the line. Just look at film and you’ll see Jarvis is a dominant lineman.”
Jenkins is itching to learn the Redskins’ defense, but because of the NFL lockout he has yet to even meet his coaches. Instead, he has spent the spring and summer training at Clemson and learning the 3-4 defensive end position from Phillip Merling, a Clemson product who plays that position for the Miami Dolphins.
Jenkins said he has missed all of the Redskins’ informal workouts this summer because he was 12 credit hours shy of completing his degree in sociology. When he realized he wouldn’t be able to report to Redskins Park because of the lockout, he went to his parents and told them he would remain at Clemson for the summer to take three more classes.
“Finishing my degree, it’s something I think about every day,” Jenkins said. “It hurt me not being [at the workouts], but I felt like this was something I should do. I don’t feel like it was selfish to keep pursuing my degree. If it came off as selfish, then I apologize. But football’s not forever.”
Jenkins had that lesson drilled into his head by his father (a standout high school linebacker whose career was ended by injured knees) and his uncle (also a star football player whose career did not progress beyond high school). Davis, Swinney and the rest of the coaches at Clemson, which last season had the highest Academic Progress Rate in the nation, also drove home that point.
Jenkins says he has a job waiting for him whenever his playing career is over. He wants to pay forward the favor Davis did for him by becoming a high school guidance counselor and assistant coach at D.W. Daniel, where his former coach has told him he is more than welcome.
First, though, Jenkins hopes to make an impact with the Redskins and reduce his parents’ financial burden.
“I’m so proud. He’s even encouraged me to go back to school so I can do something with kids, too,” Larry Jenkins says, choking back tears again. “I’ve seen him turn into a man. And now, to see him play for the Redskins, that’s gonna be something.
“. . . My brother and I both wore No. 9 in high school, so Jarvis wears No. 99 for the two of us. I’ve got No. 99 jerseys from every team he’s played on. If he gets that number and I lay eyes on him in No. 99 for the Washington Redskins, I’ll lose my mind.”