The pop still echoes through Jarvis Jenkins’ mind. Three months couldn’t quiet the sound that seems as fresh as the bright scar that works its way up his right knee.
Oh, Jenkins tries to forget the noise that exploded from his knee that August night in Baltimore. He wants to rid himself of the memory of his 310 pounds crumpling to the turf at M&T Bank Stadium, the pop screaming that his anterior cruciate ligament was torn, his meniscus damaged and his rookie year with the Washington Redskins over before it reached the regular season.
Jenkins wants to keep the mental replays in the past, along with the crutches and tears. The next time he steps onto a football field, the next time he cuts, the knee will be stronger than before, Jenkins promises himself.
Six daily rehabilitation sessions at Redskins Park starting at 7 a.m. wiped out his limp. Runs on an anti-gravity treadmill, knee squats and fights to be patient and obey the training staff’s orders to bend his knee only 40 degrees when he swears he can do 90 degrees carry him further from that Baltimore night.
Jenkins tries to block those memories, then admits in his next breath he’ll never be able to forget the moment that plunged him into the NFL’s shadow world of injury rehabilitation.
Four minutes and 40 seconds into the first quarter, the Ravens’ Ray Rice ran 6 yards off left guard. As Jenkins grabbed at the running back, his knee buckled. There wasn’t contact. Just Jenkins suddenly on the turf, then limping off with a tear-streaked face.
Left in the locker room that night, the 23-year-old Jenkins wondered, “How the hell did this happen to me?”
He thought about Clemson, where close friend Da’Quan Bowers, in his first season with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, got the sacks and attention. Jenkins handled the defensive line’s dirty work. In April, the Redskins selected him with the draft’s 41st pick. The news left Jenkins’ body limp. The third or fourth rounds were the best he hoped for. There wasn’t a dry eye among the 50 family and friends crammed into the Jenkins’ Clemson, S.C., home for a cookout.
“I tell you what, I’m proud to be his father because of the character he’s got,” said Larry Jenkins, whose football career was derailed by poor grades and a knee injury. “If I had his character a long time ago, there’s no telling what I might have been.”
Two preseason starts followed and — pop! — everything paused.
Jenkins hadn’t missed a football game since D.W. Daniel High School in Clemson, where coach Randy Robinson marveled over the transformation of a raw, explosive youngster who did the minimum into a senior fixated on the weight room. Fracture a wrist? Jenkins taped it up and played. But tape couldn’t fix his knee. Some in the Redskins organization thought he could have been the team’s best defensive lineman this season.
Why was this taken from me? Jenkins asked himself. Why did God do this?
An hour after the injury, Larry and Lica Jenkins tried to calm their son on the phone. Not being there tore up Larry. Tears dampened two states. But the parents are tough, the sort who tell their son to get to work rather than drown him in “I’m sorries.”
What are you going to do about it? Lica asked Jarvis. Get to work. That’s all I can tell you. You’ve made it this far and you’re a man, so I know what you can do.
Keep praying, Larry told his son. Things happen for a reason. Even the knee. It’s between you and God. Pray. And get to work. Larry couldn’t think of much else to say.
The longer Jenkins sat in the locker room, the more he believed God had issued a test: Are you going to rely on me more? Jenkins figured he trusted God when ligaments and life were intact. Now he had to do the same with everything torn apart.
A text arrived from Jeff Davis, Jenkins’ mentor who played linebacker at Clemson: You’ve got a lot of work ahead of you. … Fight a good fight.
When the Redskins opened the season against the New York Giants, Jenkins watched the first two snaps at home, then turned off the television and went upstairs. Announcers had noted his injury, that he was done for the year. Watching hurt.
Now Jenkins is able to stand full games. Not that it’s easy. Learning to watch is part of rehabilitation, too. After one game he rang Larry.
“Daddy,” Jenkins said, “I can’t take this.”
“Deal with it,” Larry replied. “And learn from it.”
So, Jenkins soaks up each move he sees. Rewinds plays on his TiVo. He critiques, analyzes and wonders why he didn’t invest similar time at Clemson to study film and learn better form and technique.
The weeks following surgery were the hardest part. Jenkins felt helpless. He couldn’t drive. Showering was a challenge. So were the stairs in his three-story townhome. The crutches were tossed aside and Jenkins tried to climb the stairs by himself. A month passed before he conquered them.
The knee feels normal when Jenkins walks around today, but he isn’t pushing it. Each week, he bends it further, walks straight, adds more pressure. Lateral movement is out for another month or two. Building strength and peace of mind are the goals.
The rehabilitation sessions hold no wizardry. Strengthen quadriceps. Regain flexibility. Keep the knee mobile. Try to get as much movement for as long as he can. Be confident.
“The toughest moment is wanting to do more, but you’ve got to wait,” Jenkins said. “When I face adversity, I want to beat it and go full blast and work on it full blast. But I can’t do that.”
Jenkins could have pursued his rehabilitation in South Carolina. Leaving, though, felt like walking out on his family. So, he attends defensive meetings. Sweats in the weight room with the rest of the defensive linemen. Veterans such as Stephen Bowen and Barry Cofield treat Jenkins like a brother, not a rookie sidelined for the season.
To fight boredom, Jenkins sleeps, calls his parents or retreats to the workout room in his townhome’s basement. He’s cutting weight. Adding upper-body muscle, one of Larry’s suggestions. Watching film.
Feeling sorry for himself would only detract from next year, Jenkins believes.
“I’m going to be a 10 times better player than I was before,” he said.
And Jenkins sneaks games on Madden 2012, where he takes control of the healthy, 71-rated video game version of himself to live out a rookie season that never started. There aren’t pops or scars. Just football.