JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Jacksonville defensive end TJ Jenkins has a reputation around the Pioneer Football League for throwing offenses off track and ruining the day of offensive lineman. Off the field, however, the 6-3, 270-pounder hopes to bring about positive outcomes for others.
Jenkins currently serves as a mentor at the Woodland Acres Elementary in Jacksonville. He came upon the opportunity through a connection from interning at Set Performance Training Facility. Jenkins spends an hour once a week with a fifth grade student named Travon, talking about his life and lending a variety of advice.
Here's an example from one of their conversations:
"When I go to the NFL can I get a mansion?" said Travon.
Jenkins responded, "You can go to college and get a good job and get a mansion."
It's quite the turn from a self-proclaimed "wild child and joker, but didn't get into trouble" student back in fifth grade, and the Darien, Ga., native doesn't plan on giving up his role as a mentor and supporter anytime soon. In fact, Jenkins is already on his way to making it his profession. Nicknamed "Preacher" by his Jacksonville football family, he is currently in minister training at Central Baptist Institutional Church in downtown Jacksonville, and has hopes of being ordained in the future.
The catalyst of Jenkins shifting his life focus came off the heels of a tough football season. The Dolphins went 5-6 in 2013 and Jenkins was redshirted with an injury. During Christmas break, he was robbed at gunpoint while working at a Dollar General back home.
He recalls walking in the back of the store helping a patron when his manager called him to the front to check out another customer. Jenkins noticed a man with a hooded sweatshirt, sunglasses, and a profane mouth awaiting with a soda on the counter. Once the former McIntosh Academy star opened the cash register, the criminal stuck his gun near the face of Jenkins. He recalls being so calm during the event that the police questioned if he was in on the robbery.
"I wasn't scared in that moment, but the day after got me. Not everyone looks in that barrel and tells the story afterwards. I kept on replaying seeing that barrel over and over. I know that God not only created me, but also created me to be an athlete, so He just gave me some more years to play," said Jenkins. "Each time I step on the field, I'm not about to waste that time that I could have been gone. It motivates me to go out and play hard. I'm going to give it everything that I've got. I'm going to be remembered for working hard."
His position coach, Rolando Fines, speaks highly of his defensive end's efforts this season.
"It's relentless effort. If you look at the most recent example against Edward Waters, there was a 76-yard run, and in the film he was on the opposite end of the field from when the run broke, and at the end of the play after Terrance Bryant made the guy cut inside, TJ is the one making the tackle 76 yards downfield," said Fines.
He accepted the call to become a minister last year, and went public in December. His first trial sermon back in January went "amazing".
"I couldn't ever picture me doing that ever before. When I got the call, I first questioned, 'God, did you get the right person?'" said Jenkins.
His philosophy on the title extends beyond Sunday services.
"Ministering is not just getting up there and preaching, it's about serving others. Most of the ministering isn't in the pulpit, it's walking on the sidewalk, even here at JU," said Jenkins.
He said his faith has impacted not only how he plays, but how he leads his teammates.
"It doesn't matter if you're the fifth or first string, I'm going to treat you the same way," said Jenkins.
With 25 total tackles, three sacks and eight tackles-for-a-loss on the year, the same could also be said of how he treats opposing offenses. With Jacksonville's undefeated record facing a tough road test at Drake this weekend, it would be highly pleasing for Dolphin fans to watch a sermon on sacks Saturday afternoon.