FOOTBALL — Division I University of Cincinnati commit Eric Jenkins exemplifies the skills needed to play cornerback on and off the field.
By Kevin Buckles Jr., Sports Editor
Eric Jenkins’ sly smile, showing his gold caps on either side of his two front teeth, along with his distinct New Orleans accent makes him easy to spot on campus.
That accent can also be easily identified from the 22-year-old sophomore cornerback when he is trash-talking to opponents when he and the Monarchs take the field every Saturday.
“I love playing cornerback and going up against the best,” said Jenkins. “You know when I’m making plays and shutting them down, I’m going to [trash] talk to them.”
Making plays is what Jenkins has been doing since he stepped foot onto Valley in 2014, leading the Monarchs in interceptions each of the past two seasons, and being named the team’s Defensive MVP last year. Some of the most important abilities needed to excel at the cornerback position, as Jenkins has, are to be fluidity, adaptability, and to remain undeterred – all things that he has been forced to possess since he was 12 years-old.
In Aug. 2005, Jenkins, the fourth of his mother’s eight children, and his family were a part of the tens of thousands of New Orleanians to wait out Hurricane Katrina in their own home, as 175mph winds and violent rains left his St. Bernard Projects neighborhood and entire city underwater. His family was eventually transported from their home to a highway, and subsequently the, then-named, Louisiana Superdome (now Mercedes-Benz Superdome) where conditions were almost worse.
“You loot, we shoot,’ that was crazy to see,” said Jenkins referring to signs he remembered reading around the city after being brought to the Superdome. “At the Superdome I saw people get killed too. People were going to Canal St. to get guns, and coming back to shoot people and to protect themselves. People were getting raped in there too, I saw it all.”
Jenkins added that his family slept outside of the Superdome in extreme heat conditions for six days following the storm because of the violence and over-capacity as well.
“It was a crazy experience, I’ll never forget.”
In the years following Katrina, things got no easier for Jenkins as he adapted having to move from New Orleans to Ft. Worth, TX, to Dallas, TX, back to New Orleans, back to Ft. Worth, and then finally back in New Orleans for good during the second half of his freshman year of high school at Miller McCoy Academy where he played basketball and football.
“We had a nice basketball team at [Miller] McCoy but I stopped playing and focused more on football because I knew I wasn’t going to be that tall,” said Jenkins.
An athletic 5’10, 181-pound young man in high school was an ideal size to excel at playing football however, which Jenkins did at Miller McCoy up until his junior year when others began to take notice.
“Miller McCoy always had a lot of talent, and Eric was no different,” said former Eleanor McMain Mustangs defensive coordinator, and former New Orleans Saints safety, Mel Mitchell, who helped convinced Jenkins to transfer to McMain for his senior season. “He was the most athletic and already had the heart and desire to play football that a lot of kids didn’t have; he never complained about coming to practice in the summertime, and made no excuses.”
Mitchell added: “What made me take a liking to Eric so much was his background and not having much, with little support from his family.”
According to Mitchell and Jenkins himself, there were days that Jenkins would go without eating just to have enough money to catch the bus from uptown to downtown, New Orleans East, to get to practice. But practice paid off though, as Jenkins made his impact felt immediately, leading Mustangs in interceptions that season with an eye-popping, 13. But despite his great season, none of his family came to witness any of his games.
“No aunties, no uncles, nobody … it hurt,” said Jenkins. “On Senior Night, I didn’t have a parent to be there with me, my coaches [Mitchell and Head Coach Kevin Roussell] had to be my parents that night.”
Even still, Jenkins remained undeterred, becoming the first in his family to graduate high school graduate, along with being a standout football player.
“It helped motivate me to prove them wrong. My brother [Dwanye Jenkins] helped to keep me out of the streets too and just go to school while he was in the streets. But I kept telling myself, ‘if they see how good I’m playing, they’ll come,’ even though they didn’t. My mom has only been to a couple of my games when I was younger because of her jobs and having to take care of my young siblings.”
Following his senior year at McMain, Jenkins again had to adapt to new environments, bouncing from a prep school in Atlanta where he met and trained with Deion Sanders Jr. and his Hall of Fame father, to Southeastern University (where he left due to dissatisfaction) to, finally, Valley in spring 2014.
His first season here left around 14 different Division I schools impressed enough to offer him a scholarship, including west coast schools, Fresno State, Washington State, and Arizona State. He recently finished weighing his options and committed to the University of Cincinnati. After only two months and a 3-1 start to the season, Valley’s new Head Coach Robert Tucker, has come away very impressed.
“He reminds a lot of [Dallas Cowboys cornerback] Orlando Scandrick, and [New Orleans Saints cornerback] Kyle Wilson,” said Tucker, who had the opportunity to coach Scandrick and Wilson as a safeties coach at Boise State University. “They are very fiery on the field. He has so much potential as a person and especially as a football player, the sky is the limit for him.”
As far as Jenkins has come, when he joins Cincinnati next season, he will only consider that as “knocking on the door.” Getting into the door for Jenkins will be developing into a prospect that be good enough to be an NFL player, then perhaps coach to help others – as Mel Mitchell did for him.
But when he steps on the field next fall, there will only be one thing on his mind.
“I’m going to have enough money then to fly my mom out to come to my games,” said Jenkins. “[Looking into the stands and seeing her] is going to be a dream come true.”