Georgia nose guard John Jenkins did not follow the smoothest path to SEC football, spending two years at Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College before big programs like Georgia and Florida pursued him as a recruit.
And even once he arrived at UGA, things didn't come easily for the big nose guard from Connecticut. Jenkins didn't truly begin to figure things out until midway through his first season -- a fairly common progression for a juco transfer.
Jenkins has finally gained a comfort level at Georgia, and his experiences in junior college helped him appreciate that progress all the more.
He discussed what it was like to move from high school to junior college to SEC football in a recent interview with DawgNation. Here is what he had to say:
How big is the difference between playing in juco and playing here?
It’s a major difference. No matter how hard you train, you can’t train for what you’re about to go into. You can have the best coach before you go into the NFL, but that doesn’t mean that’s exactly how it’s going to feel when you go to the NFL. Same thing when you go from a juco to a D-1 college like the SEC. Same thing like when you come from high school to a big college. But the thing is the juco players including myself, I know from my own experience that we’re that much hungrier because we only have two years.
I’ve seen some of the best players that were recruited out of high school and they talked about how they did this and did that and who was recruiting them when I was at juco. And myself, I was like, "Man, nobody was recruiting me when I was in high school," but that made me that much hungrier. You just learn not to take things for granted.
How hard was it to make that transition?
Last year, I had a tough camp and passed out or whatever, but I was still trying to fight even though everybody was laughing and Coach [Rodney] Garner was on me, but that still didn’t stop me from fighting. There were times where I was like, "This is not for me," but deep down in my heart, I knew it was for me. I just had to find a way to overcome it. [Mark] Beard is the same way. He’s working hard, trying to adjust to the speed of the game, but he’s hungry. He’s my roommate and I know he’s hungry.
Most of the time, people look at juco players and think there is a reason why they didn’t go to a four-year school straight out of high school and people question them. Is that something you used for motivation?
My reasons were football wasn’t big in high school where I’m from. In Connecticut, football’s not big. I didn’t really play football until my senior year of high school, really. I graduated high school obviously and went to juco with my high school diploma. But there’s a lot of things.
Somebody like myself could not take interest in football until real late. Grades could be a big factor. I didn’t know anything about the Clearinghouse because nobody really did the things that I’m doing now, so nobody was there to educate me about the Clearinghouse and the classes that you must take to get cleared through the Clearinghouse and the SATs and stuff like that. Nobody educated me on that and some guys need to go juco just to get the feel of playing college ball.
I remember a long time ago reading an article with a comment by Nick Saban saying that the juco that I went to was one of the top jucos in the nation. [Terrence] Cody went there, Demond Washington, Vick Ballard, Wayne Dorsey, Damien Jackson, Chris White. All those guys that I just named had a big impact at Mississippi State, Auburn, Alabama in the SEC and are now playing in the NFL. It’s just one of those things where you have to have a development period and I’m glad I went juco. It showed me if I would have come here and all this stuff is given to me -- nice clothes, all Nike gear, new pairs of shoes all the time -- some things you can take for granted and you can overlook the picture and the reason why you’re here. Going to juco, it showed me, ‘Hey listen, when I leave here, I have all these offers and I chose Georgia.’
My pops was like all the time, ‘Stay focused.’ And by him being in my corner, it’s just pretty much helped me. I’m where I need to be right now and I didn’t overlook anything. Coach Garner, Coach [Mark] Richt, they’re in my corner to back me up and that’s how it is coming from a juco standpoint. We come from nothing, almost getting lost in the system until now where you have a stable home, you have anything you need. All you have to do is perform and go to class.
How would you describe the experience of being a juco football player?
Man, it’s hectic because you don’t have nobody waking you up and you don’t have an academic period where a coach will really try to get you going to go to class. Nobody’s holding your hand and you can get lost in the system. I’ve seen some good guys get lost in the system and now all they’re doing is just going back to the house and doing whatever they’re doing or they’re just there until the end of the semester, talking to the girls and stuff like that. It’s easy to get lost in the juco system, real easy, because it’s like a factory. People come in, people come out. People come in, people come out. It’s a factory.
If you look at the number of juco guys that have come here under Coach Richt, there aren’t many. That kind of puts importance on y’all to perform.
Trust me, I heard that when I was in juco. I knew a receiver from Atlanta at my juco and he was like, ‘Man, did you get an offer from Georgia?’ and I said, ‘Nah.’ The thing was he told me, ‘They don’t recruit juco guys.’ There’s some schools that you know recruit JUCO guys like Mississippi State, Ole Miss, Auburn, but schools like Georgia, Florida, Miami -- I remember I wanted to go to Miami and those guys don’t recruit juco guys -- so when those guys don’t recruit juco guys, it puts that much more pressure on you because it’s like, ‘What do they see in me that they’re stepping out of their own boundaries, their own recruiting process to get you?’
They saw you as a guy they could put in the middle of the defensive line and make a difference.
It’s good, but when I came here it took me a while to realize that because of everything that was coming at me. They saw something in me that I didn’t even see at the time. Now as I’m starting to have Coach Garner and all the coaches educate me and coach me up and I’m starting to believe -- well I believe in my own abilities, but I just couldn’t see it. It was just tough going against one of the best offensive linemen in the country, including the NFL, Ben Jones, Cordy Glenn, Justin Anderson, all those guys, it was tough. But Coach Garner saw that I had the ability to hold my own once I was able to do so.
When did it start slowing down where you figured out what you were doing?
Probably the Mississippi State game. It was like that when I was in juco because of the speed of the game coming from Connecticut down to the South with all these five-star recruits, it took a good bit. It took about a month, the same time as last year when in the Mississippi State game I was able to make that tackle and I slammed [LaDarius] Perkins. It just clicked and I was like, ‘Man, let’s go.’
So it’s kind of a success story, even if it’s not finished yet.
Yeah, when you do things like that, it just makes you work harder because you want that again. It’s like a high and you want it again. I’ll be in a game and talking to [Jarvis Jones] and we just say things like, ‘Yo, I’ll give you my dinner for first one to the sack,’ or something like that. It’s just crazy. It’s a game and we try to keep it as a game, but at the same time and in the same sense, we’re trying to dominate, too.