Notre Dame senior Jayson Jenkins is flanked by his parents; Kimberly and Jerome at the Feb. 2 National Signing Day in the Notre Dame auditorium. In the rear, from left-to-right, is ND coach Sean Clancy and Jayson's sisters, Julia and J.J.  Rich Fisher photo
Notre Dame senior Jayson Jenkins is flanked by his parents; Kimberly and Jerome at the Feb. 2 National Signing Day in the Notre Dame auditorium. In the rear, from left-to-right, is ND coach Sean Clancy and Jayson's sisters, Julia and J.J. Rich Fisher photo
" You always have to put your trust and your faith in God at the end of the day. He’s gonna be the one that’s there for you at every obstacle in your life. Even when in doubt, you just have to truly believe he’s got you at the hand. " Jayson Jenkins senior football DE, Notre Dame High School, Lawrenceville

Notre Dame of Lawrenceville’s football coach Sean Clancy feels the reasons senior Jayson Jenkins will continue his education and athletic career in college football’s best conference are because of his dedication and hard work, both on the field and in the classroom.

Jenkins appreciates those kind thoughts but feels there is another reason why he has signed to play for the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, in the Southeast Conference.

“Playing there is nothing but a blessing from God,” said the 6-foot-6, 260-pound defensive end after being recognized with a National Signing Day ceremony in the NDHS auditorium Feb. 2.

“You always have to put your trust and your faith in God at the end of the day,” Jenkins continued. “He’s gonna be the one that’s there for you at every obstacle in your life. Even when in doubt, you just have to truly believe he’s got you at the hand.”

The Bordentown resident strongly felt that way during his search for a college, which can be a stressful time for a high school athlete.

“At a certain time in my recruitment I felt like I wasn’t gonna reach that next level, but I trusted the process and continued to pray,” Jenkins said. “Just trusting in him has been a very, very great thing. It’s been a lesson over the last couple months to always keep your trust in God because he will never leave you. He’ll always be there for you.”

Jenkins comes from a Baptist family of very strong faith. He opted for Notre Dame due to its academics and athletics and was immediately drawn to ND’s Catholic Athletes for Christ organization.

“We all serve the same God,” he figured.

Jenkins also served the Irish football team well last autumn, as he collected 54.5 tackles, 7.5 sacks and two forced fumbles. He earned All-County and All-Area honors as a senior, was a member of the New Jersey State Super 100 team, and was the state’s No. 22 ranked recruit this year.

Jayson was recruited by such schools as Pittsburgh, Boston College, Indiana, West Virginia, Temple, Connecticut and Florida, but was sold on Tennessee by second-year head coach Josh Heupel; legendary defensive line coach Rodney Garner, who has molded numerous NFL players; and defensive coordinator Tim Banks.

Heupel inherited a program that went 3-7 in 2020 and guided Tennessee to a 7-6 mark and eight school records one year later. Jenkins, a three-star prospect, is one of five linemen recruited by Tennessee, and Rivals.com rated Heupel’s recruiting class No. 12 nationally.

“It really came down to the coaches,” Jenkins said. “I really felt comfortable with the plans they had set for me and the program. I feel like they’re taking the program to new heights and I really wanted to be part of something special. I couldn’t turn that down.”

Jenkins signed his Letter of Intent in front of his family, several Notre Dame administrators and a number of his football teammates. Addressing the crowd, Athletic Director Rich Roche said, “I never had a favorite team in the SEC to root for but I do have a team I root against; and I’m sure you can guess who that is (it’s Alabama). But now I have a favorite football team in the SEC.”  

SEC teams have won the National Football Championship 12 of the last 16 years. Like so many other college football fans, Roche’s rooting interest is based on the fact that Alabama has won six of those titles, and everyone wants to see a perennial winner get its comeuppance.  

“It’s nothing less than a blessing to compete at the highest level,” Jenkins said. “Part of the reason I joined is you want to beat the top dog. … It’s just a goal to beat (Alabama) over the next four years.”

And while Jenkins will unleash his ferociousness on the field, he will continue to be nothing but a class act off it.

“He’s a gentleman,” Roche said. “He conducts himself in the manner that we would like a Notre Dame student to conduct themselves. You shake his hand, and you know what kind of kid you’ve got. His hand engulfs you, but you know you’ve got a guy who’s been raised right by his parents. He comes from a wonderful family and he’s been a good ambassador for our football program since his freshman year here.”

Clancy feels the same way, adding that, “He’s a great young man, a real hard worker. He did a great job in the classroom and on the field. We’re really proud of him. He’s a great example of a Notre Dame student. We’re into body, mind and spirit, and he definitely has grown in all these ways.”

One of Jenkins’ favorite aspects about Catholic Athletes for Christ is giving back to the community. And although he came to Notre Dame with a strong faith, he credits CAC for strengthening it even further. He enjoys the numerous projects of giving back to the community.

“It was always there, but this enhanced it,” he said. “Just coming to a Catholic High School, we pray before every game, we’re centering everything [on] God. I feel it took it to a whole other level when I came here.”

Clancy runs CAC with Jim Treacy and feels Jenkins has been a valuable member for the past four years. And when a “celebrity” like himself gives so much to the faith, it can only help draw others into the fold.

“I think it definitely does,” Clancy said. “One of the great things about Notre Dame is … [that] kids can move between all different sorts of groups and always be seen as themselves. I had a teacher come up to me who taught him twice and say, ‘I didn’t even know he played football.’”

Fortunately for Jenkins, Tennessee did.

Other Dioceses of Trenton Division I Commits:

Donovan Catholic: Nunes Bukula IV, RB, Wagner; Connor Farrell, LB, Monmouth; Caron McNair, OL, Old Dominion; Levi Wilkins, TE, Bryant

Red Bank Catholic: Alex Brown, QB, Bucknell; Alex Bauman, TE, Tulane; Rajahn Cooper, LB, Merrimac, Vince Carpenter, OT, Purdue

St. John Vianney: Peter Pezzullo, RB, St. Thomas