Good Counsel senior linebacker/running back Jelani Jenkins is met by coaches… (Toni L. Sandys -- The Washington…)
Somewhere amid the squadron of umbrellas that filled Good Counsel's football stadium, the key members of Jelani Jenkins's supporting cast watched the product of their work in all his glory. This, they said, was the plan executed to perfection. There was Jenkins, dressed in navy and gold, No. 3, the linebacker with the neck roll trotting calmly to the sideline as his teammates burst onto the field in an array of mid-air shoulder bumps, hand slaps and primal screams.
That game, last Friday against an overmatched Paul VI Catholic team, was his only concern. Jenkins's off-the-field team had streamlined nearly every aspect of his life so that whichever unfortunate soul carrying the ball in a Paul VI jersey was the sole object of his attention.
Not coaches from the nearly three dozen division I-A universities that have offered Jenkins a scholarship. Not recruiting analysts from the Web sites that have ranked the 6-foot-1, 220-pound All-Met among the top 10 high school football players in the class of 2009. Not strangers from cyberspace who just want Jenkins to know that their school is the one for him.
Tonight, Good Counsel hosts DeMatha in a sold-out game at its campus in Olney that will be televised on ESPN2. The game will introduce Jenkins to a national audience for the first time, but it will not distract him from his college decision.
He will make that choice on his own schedule, not that of his pursuers. And he will make it with the guidance of a family that has worked for the past 16 years to raise Jenkins in a nurturing, in some ways secluded, environment. The foundation Jenkins's supporters have laid will not be shaken, despite an immense volume and variety of attention none of them saw coming.
"We want him to be presented in the right light," said Stephanie Hall, Jenkins's mother. "That is real important to us."
They each have roles, Hall said. She and her husband, Ernest, funnel the flood of information-seekers away from Jenkins, so that he may be better suited to maintain his 3.9 GPA and live as normal a life as a well-known, 16-year-old high school senior can live.
Her oldest son, Shomari Jenkins, said he is the voice in Jelani's ear. If a college coach is feeding Jelani a line, Shomari will make sure his younger brother knows it.
And then there's Jelani's father, Maurice Jenkins, the finely dressed entrepreneur whose background as both an artist and architect best qualifies him to manage the whole process. He leaned against the fence surrounding Good Counsel's field 20 minutes before kickoff against Paul VI and watched his son run through pregame drills.
Minutes earlier, he had met with coaches from Notre Dame and Maryland who had come to watch Jelani. Hours earlier, he had spoken to UCLA Coach Rick Neuheisel on the phone. Days earlier, he had chatted with a coach from Michigan, one of a handful of recruiters he said he's in touch with about once a week.
Most teams see Jelani as a weak-side linebacker in college, a player who can help contain opposing spread offenses. After viewing Oregon State's upset over then-No. 1 Southern California the night before, Maurice said he better understood that line of thinking.
"I can see why Jelani is such a commodity," he said. "It's that lateral speed. A lot of linebackers are that Butkus type, where if you get within five yards of me, I'll knock your head off. But what teams are looking for is that sideline-to-sideline speed, that kind Jelani's got."
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As Jelani scrolled up and down the screen of the Gateway laptop in his mother's bedroom, Stephanie and Ernest Hall sat on the mattress behind him and peered over his shoulder. On this mid-July day, Jelani showed his mother and stepfather, for the first time, the extended reach of modern-day recruiting.
From the inbox of Jelani's Facebook account, he opened a half dozen of the 50 or so messages he had received in the past eight months from people he had never met, people who attended the same schools that were pining for his services on the gridiron. It was a slow progression, Jelani said. A friend request here and there, a message every now and then.
But after Rivals.com listed Jelani as the No. 9 recruit in the country this past March, the highly coveted linebacker discovered he had more friends than he knew what to do with.
"It was weird because you don't start getting that [attention] until you get in the rankings, so I knew not to show them even any attention because I knew they didn't want to be my friend; they just wanted me to go to their school," Jelani said. "I know it shouldn't be like that where they can use something for some other reason that's not the real reason why. I mean, it doesn't bother me. I feel blessed to have [the attention], but I don't use it to tell any random people from their school where I'm going to go."