ATHENS – The first time Jordan Jenkins met Nick Saban, he didn’t know who he was. That should’ve been the first sign he wasn’t going to Alabama.
It was four years ago. Saban was snuck in the back door at Harris County High School so as few people as possible knew the high-profile Alabama head coach was there to see Jenkins, a highly-sought outside linebacker. Kirby Smart, Alabama’s defensive coordinator and Jenkins’ top recruiter, was with Saban.
Jenkins walked in the room, and shook Smart’s hand. In so doing, he walked right past Saban.
“I didn’t watch a lot of football growing up. So I didn’t know who he was,” Jenkins said. “So I went to coach Smart, and coach Saban was sitting right there. I was like, Dang, that’s kinda awkward.”
Saban took it well, which is what you do when you’re trying to sign a player.
“He laughed about it and shook my hand,” Jenkins said.
Jenkins ended up going to Georgia, delivering one of the recruiting wins that the program has gotten over Alabama over the past few years. But Jenkins and the Bulldogs are still waiting to catch up to the Crimson Tide on the field.
This Saturday would seem to be a prime shot. Alabama (3-1) has slipped to No. 14 in the AP poll and, if the line stays as is, will be an underdog for the first time in 72 games. The Crimson Tide’s offensive line, once its calling card, has had shaky moments this year, letting the quarterback get hit 17 times in four games.
Jenkins leads Georgia with nine QB hits and three sacks. Jenkins has had a good career, recording five sacks in each of his first three years. But he’s waiting for a breakthrough moment, and there would be symmetry with it coming against Alabama.
“As an external factor, for me and some of the guys on the team, we think about it sometimes,” Jenkins said of playing Alabama. “But at the end of the day we can’t really dwell on it because we want to focus on our gameplan, and focus on being the defense we need to be, and being the offense we need to be this Saturday.”
Jenkins was leaning towards going to Alabama for much of the recruiting process. He got along well with Smart, the former Georgia player and assistant who recruits south Georgia. Jenkins grew up all over the country, as his father was in the Army, but the family settled in Hamilton, nestled near the border with Alabama.
Then-Georgia defensive coordinator Todd Grantham made a final push at Jenkins, and it worked. Jenkins eliminated Florida from consideration, and it came down to the Bulldogs and Tide.
Jenkins made and announced his decision on the day Alabama won the national championship by beating LSU. Jenkins said he reached his decision around 3 a.m., then made the announcement on television a couple hours before the Sugar Bowl.
“That was the toughest two or three days leading up to that to make the final decision,” Jenkins said.
The call to Smart was tough too. Smart was “respectful” about it, Jenkins said, and asked if there was anything else he could have done to sway his decision.
“It was telling a family member or a brother that you weren’t gonna be in their life,” Jenkins said. “It was a hard decision, a hard call to make. I try to keep in touch with coach Smart and some of the coaches I had a strong relationship with in recruiting.”
Smart is still at Alabama, so they can talk again Saturday. But Grantham left after Jenkins’ sophomore season, and now he’s coached by two former Alabama guys: Jeremy Pruitt, who was the secondary coach when Jenkins was there, and Kevin Sherrer, who was a player development coordinator.
Still, Jenkins has no qualms about his decision, or how he arrived at it. Football was important, but he said his decision was swayed by one question: Where would he go if he wasn’t a football player?
“I had more of a home feeling about Georgia,” said Jenkins, who last year was accepted into UGA’s Terry College of Business. “I really just saw what my future here could hold. I just knew it was the best decision for me and my family.”
It’s working out well for Georgia as well, including for Pruitt, one of the coaches who at one point was unhappy he hadn’t picked Alabama. Now he’s happy.
“Jordan’s a guy that we ask to do a lot of things. And to me I think he’s a very unselfish guy,” Pruitt said. “When we got here he just lined up on the edge and rushed off the edge pretty much on every snap of every game. We’ve asked him to do some other things and I can’t say enough good things about him. The way he goes about his business every day, plays with good toughness, has a good competitive spirit. And he tries to have a positive impact on the guys around him.”