Janoris Jenkins from tiny University of North Alabama is one of the most talented defensive backs in this year’s NFL Draft. You’d also be hard-pressed to find a prospective rookie carrying more negative cargo into his NFL Combine team interviews than this premier cornerback.
At 23, he has four children, three boys and a girl ages 3, 2, 1 and three months. He also has a blemished personal history that includes two drug-related arrests in a three-month span in 2011 and a June 2009 arrest for fighting outside a Gainesville, Fla., bar. Police said Jenkins told them another man was making a grab for his gold chain and he fought back.
The second drug arrest got Jenkins bounced by Florida coach Will Muschamp from the football program, where the cornerback had been a three-year starter and a first-team All-Southeastern Conference selection.
Jenkins retreated to Division II North Alabama rather than enter the NFL supplemental draft pool, and he vowed Sunday in his combine media session that his love affair with marijuana and the bad influences that steered him wrong as a younger man are truly behind him.
Teams are certainly asking him all about this in their individual interrogations.
"What happened with my drug possession? How many times I was arrested? How many possession of marijuana charges I had … how many failed drug tests I had at Florida," said Jenkins, who is copping to one failed drug test while in Gainesville.
Jenkins is honest about his past and tells NFL teams that he will "eliminate myself from some of those guys I used to hang with. I think about my mom all the time, and my kids. For them to have a great life or a nice life, I’ve got to put some of that aside, put it behind me, in order for my kids to get what they want.
"I have to be a father to my kids. And just be there for my mom."
Jenkins says he is involved in his children’s lives. "I am. Whenever I go home (Pahokee, Fla.), they call me. When they call me, I’m there. Gotta be there."
Still, that is some heavyweight responsibility for a young player, and the burden of all of this — along with questions about his character and judgment — may cause some teams to look elsewhere. Other teams are likely to embrace him and his honesty, if he comes across as sincere in his willingness to change.
The football fall from grace wasn’t lost on Jenkins as he went from the national spotlight at Florida to the Thursday night lights of Florence, Ala., in the northwest corner of the state along the Tennessee border. No surprise here — he’s grateful for this opportunity to play in the NFL.
"It makes me appreciate it a lot," Jenkins said. "Coming from Florida, getting three or four pair of cleats a week, gloves, then going to Northern Alabama and getting one pair of cleats … playing in front of 3,500 people after being in The Swamp and playing in front of 95,000, it’s a big difference.
"It’s a learning experience."
It better be, or Jenkins will never make it in the NFL.