Janoris Jenkins missed the steady supply of athletic shoes and the big crowds during his one-season stop at Division II North Alabama, but he didn't miss the chance to forge an NFL career.
Jenkins was still invited to the weeklong job fair known as the Senior Bowl, where he'll compete for the South team on Saturday.
It's a chance to work on the future, but first he's fielding questions about his past that probably won't go away before the draft in April about a year after Florida coach Will Muschamp dismissed him from the team following Jenkins' second drug arrest in three months and third of his college career.
“It humbled me down a lot, seeing that I had went from Florida, a Nike school getting three or four pairs of cleats a year, to going to a Division II football school where I'm getting just one pair of cleats,” Jenkins said. “It really humbled me as a kid. The environment was totally different as far as 95,000-plus in the Swamp to 3,500 at North Alabama. It was a big difference.”
Some draft analysts still project Jenkins as a potential first-round pick in the April draft. Underclassmen Dre Kirkpatrick of Alabama and Morris Claiborne of LSU might be hotter prospects but they're not eligible for the Senior Bowl.
Now, Jenkins is hoping to follow in the footsteps of former Florida State receiver Preston Parker. Parker, also from south Florida, played his final season at North Alabama after getting dismissed from the Seminoles following his third arrest and is now in his second season with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
“He made some mistakes similar to what I made and he overcame everything and now he's successful at the next level,” Jenkins said. “That's my past, I learned from it and it taught me to be a better man.”
He faces fewer questions about his playing abilities. Jenkins started 36 games for the Gators over three years and collected eight interceptions, earning first-team All-Southeastern Conference honors as a junior.
Fox Sports analyst Charles Davis said the past is a big factor for Jenkins.
“That's going to play into it in a big way because every team is going to do their homework on him,” Davis said. “Athletically, I think he's the best corner here. That part is no issue. It's the rest of it he's going to have to work his way through.
“But we have those every year. If he can clear through a few of those (questions), I think he's really, really good.”
Jenkins said opposing teams didn't throw to his man particularly often at North Alabama, where he had two interceptions and a blocked kick. Jenkins also ranked second in Division II with a 21.7-yard punt return average, including three touchdowns of 87-plus yards.
“I thought Janoris was as good as advertised,” North Alabama secondary coach Chris Willis said. “We were able to do a lot of things defensively with Janoris that we haven't been able to do in the past. We were able to isolate him with a single receiver and we could take the safeties and shift everybody to the other side.
“We could put him on the best receiver and tell him to lock him down.”
Willis also said Jenkins, who arrived in Florence, Ala., in July, showed up for every weight lifting session, was on time for meetings and put in his time in the film room.
“We had no problems from him,” he said. “When Janoris got there, he understood, I have to go somewhere and I have to clean my image up. I have to be able not just to perform on the field, I have to be able to show how I am off the field.”
Willis said all 32 NFL teams visited North Alabama last season, and a couple of games drew a dozen or so scouts.
Jenkins was charged with marijuana possession in April 2010, his second such arrest since January. He was also charged in May 2009 with affray and resisting arrest without violence, receiving probation and community service.
What is Jenkins now trying to convey to NFL officials?
“That I'm a great kid, that I'm respectful and humble,” he said. “That my decisions that I made in the past are behind me. I just made mistakes when I was a kid.”
South coach Mike Shanahan of the Washington Redskins said all the NFL prospects get close looks off the field as well as on it before teams invest in them.
As for the on-the-field stuff, Shanahan said: “I think everybody can see he can bump, he can play off, he's very talented, he can run. So he'll be a top guy.”