- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 4, 2009

The name Jelani is Swahili for mighty.

Our Lady of Good Counsel’s Jelani Jenkins may have outstripped even that lofty description.

The most coveted among dozens of local preps prepared to sign letters of intent on Wednesday’s college football national signing day, Jenkins is the kind of player who seems to make girls blush, coaches gush, teachers applaud and parents nod.

On the field, he’s a 6-foot-1, 210-pound projectile, a scheme-busting blur at outside linebacker who collected nearly 200 tackles during his three seasons as a starter for the Falcons.

“He’s flat-out great. You don’t have to be Dan Patrick to figure that out,” said Good Counsel coach Bob Milloy, who has seen more than his share of talent during a 35-year career that includes eight state titles and former stops at Sherwood and Springbrook.

To see some vintage Jenkins, take a peek at his YouTube clips. Jenkins won’t pick a favorite; chest-thumping isn’t his style. Most coaches fancy one that shows him chasing down current Virginia defensive back Rodney McLeod in Good Counsel’s 2007 clash with DeMatha. On the play, the 180-pound McLeod catches a pass, spins into the clear and heads for the end zone… only to have Jenkins emerge from the wash in the middle of the field and close the 6-yard gap in a split second.

Jenkins runs the 40-yard dash in just over 4.4 seconds. Unlike a lot of guys, that speed doesn’t seem diminished when he puts on pads. And unlike a lot of other speedsters, Jenkins complements his wheels with a healthy passion for contact.

“We knew pretty early on that he was special,” said his father, Maurice Jenkins. “When we put him in little league, he would knock out two or three guys per game.”

Jelani’s accolades could fill a small house: He’s the two-time Gatorade player of the year in Maryland. According to rivals.com, he’s the top-rated outside linebacker recruit in the nation. He’s the first player in the 71-year history of the District’s Pigskin Club to earn both defensive player of the year and scholar athlete of the year honors. And later this month, he will travel to Los Angeles as one of five national finalists for the Watkins Award, the high school equivalent of the Heisman Trophy.

But perhaps the most remarkable thing about Jenkins is that he’s as accomplished in the classroom as on the field. His GPA is above a perfect 4.0, owing to the extra credit given to Advanced Placement courses. This semester’s course load includes AP English literature and human anatomy and physiology.

“Anatomy is my favorite,” said Jenkins, who will choose between Florida and Penn State on Wednesday for a live ESPN audience. “I’d like to make it to the NFL. But ultimately, I’d like to own my own business. I’d like to do something in the medical field, possibly some type of sports medicine.”

Whatever field Jenkins chooses no doubt will be exhaustively researched. There are no half-measures among the Jenkins clan. Both Maurice and mother Stephanie attended Howard University. Stephanie played hoops for the Bison and is a black belt in karate. The son of a civil rights leader, Maurice is a local architect specializing in residential design whose work includes one of Pervis Ellison’s houses.

Maurice was the point man for Jelani’s recruiting, designing a complex matrix of the pros and cons associated with each of the schools on his list and organizing between 20 and 25 unofficial visits so Jelani could get a true feel for each of his suitors.

“They were real keen on popping up on schools, talking to students and teachers,” said Good Counsel assistant Kevin McFadden, who aided Maurice and Jelani throughout the process. “That way, by the time they went on officials, folks could roll out the red carpet and all, but we could see past it. We already knew who they were.”

That process ends Wednesday when Jenkins will choose between Joe Paterno and Linebacker U and the chance to play for the defending national champions alongside Florida All-Americans Tim Tebow and Brandon Spikes.

“Brandon and Jelani really hit it off on his official visit to Florida,” said Maurice, careful not to tip his hand too much. “Jelani can’t go wrong with any of the schools on his list.”

The lucky program will be getting one of the most well-rounded prep stars in any sport in recent years.

“Yeah, I’m ready to get it over with because it has been a very long and involved process,” said Jelani, who was described by McFadden as a humble, quiet kid who is quick to listen and slow to speak. “It’s an honor to be recognized and recruited, but I can’t let it be the only thing in my head. It’s a big deal because it’s an important decision. A lot of people are focused on the day, the decision and the future. I’ve got to stay focused on the present.”

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