John Jenkins of the New Orleans Saints Friday at Came Cuno in Meriden July,11 2014 | Justin Weekes / For the Record-Journal
July 12, 2014 11:03PM
By Sean Krofssik
MERIDEN — John Jenkins has a message for the youth of Meriden: Don’t be afraid to leave, and when you find success, come back and help your community.
The New Orleans Saints defensive lineman, who is in town this weekend for his birthday fundraiser at Ruby Tuesday’s on Friday night, left the Silver City after graduating from Maloney in 2009.
Jenkins bolted for Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College, where he blossomed into one of the most desired linemen in the recruiting landscape. He was courted by the top football programs in the country before selecting the University of Georgia. After a standout college career, Jenkins was drafted into the NFL last spring.
“I feel if we want to be successful as a community, and as one, we have to be able to sacrifice and be able to know that our supporting cast is here for us and that kids should be able to leave and go adventure the world and then come back and know that they are accepted still,” Jenkins said. “If it wasn’t for me just blindly going down to Mississippi, I would not be able to come back and give like I’m going to give now.
“I would like to send that as a message. I want to encourage the kids who want to go travel the world and want to go see the world instead of being in Meriden. No disrespect, but seeing the world and coming back to Meriden and bringing the community as one so we can build off of one another.”
Jenkins said he had no problem with leaving home to pursue his dreams.
“It was easy for me to go,” Jenkins said. “I have an imagination. I’m a big fan of Harry Potter and watching those movies encouraged my imagination to go see the world. To want to go do things that a normal person wouldn’t want to do.”
Imagination combined with plenty of hard work earned him a four-year pact with New Orleans after being drafted in the third round in 2013. He said getting selected to play pro football was one of the best days of his life.
“It was a nerve-wracking experience,” Jenkins recalled. “I was just trying to enjoy the company of my family. But knowing one phone call could be the turning point of your life, you just don’t know when that call was going to happen. You don’t know what team you are going to talk to. I was nervous.
“It was a feeling of me just being ready,” he said after he finally got the call. “I was really excited, but I think I was more ready to go to war. I was just focused. Everything from high school to junior college, to Georgia to the League, my tunnel vision just kicked in when I got that call. It was like I was looking through a scope.”
Jenkins suited up for all 16 games and started five for the Saints in his rookie season. Big John said it still hasn’t sunk in that he is a pro yet.
“You are going up against people playing for their livelihood,” Jenkins said. “They are putting food on their table with this job. You are going against someone and saying ‘I’m going to stop you from providing for your family; I’m going to beat you.’ Going my first snap against the Atlanta Falcons was probably the hardest thing that I accomplished. As a rookie, going through this league and having the year that I had is almost a blessing because it showed that I worked hard.”
Jenkins finished with 21 tackles in his initial campaign. He said his best moment as a pro was in Week 4 against Miami, a 38-17 win on Sept. 30.
“It was my first start in the dome and on the opening drive Miami was driving the ball in our red zone and I made a third-and-inches stop,” Jenkins said. “The was probably one of the highlights of my career so far.”
Jenkins said playing at Georgia helped prepare him for the big stage of the National Football League.
“The SEC was the greatest experience,” Jenkins said. “It was a strong fan base. It was pure fans that loved the sport for what it is.”
When he is not on the gridiron, Jenkins can be found at his home in Boca Raton, Fla. or in the driver’s seat.
“I’m a big car person,” Jenkins said. “I’m in the process of trying to get a car show going in New Orleans and I would like to bring it back to Connecticut. I drive a R33 GTR. That’s my pride and that’s my baby. That’s one thing I like to do. I also like to go on the beach. I live by a beach and I just like to be able to walk around.”
Jenkins said he couldn’t wait to get back to Meriden to see all of his friends and family. He said he embraces being a role model in the Silver City.
“It’s cool,” Jenkins said. “The kids will just come up to me and ask for my autograph and they will say that you are their favorite player. It’s because they know you because you are tangible. You’re not just someone you’re going to see on TV and never see in person. So It’s cool to be a role model in this community.”