ATHENS, Ga. -- Practice had been over for several minutes, but John Jenkins was panting loudly as he walked through a lobby in the Georgia football team’s facility Thursday.
“I’m not going to lie to you, working with those guys is a lot of work,” Jenkins said, smiling as he wiggled his 342-pound body onto a stool.
He was at 357 pounds when he arrived in Athens this summer, according to Jenkins. Team workouts and the onset of preseason practice whittled him down, but the Bulldogs’ new nose tackle still can be called “Big John.”
He just can’t be called “presumed starter” anymore.
When Jenkins signed out of junior college in February, it was with the idea that he would help shore up the defense by being the much-needed nose tackle. He still could be, but, for now, sophomore Kwame Geathers is ahead of him on the depth chart.
“It didn’t surprise me, because you’ve got to think about it: Kwame’s been here awhile, so, as he’s been on first team, I’m learning,” Jenkins said. “This is a hard defense; it’s not like junior college. It’s a lot of things to be accountable for. They want me to be able to handle that pressure. So, with Kwame being ahead of me, I’m learning.”
And the Connecticut native is humble about expectations.
“It’s the (Southeastern Conference) -- it’s the best of the best down here -- and I wasn’t coming here thinking I was going to dominate,” he said. “No, no sir. I just came here like it’s not junior college. Once again, I’m not going to be able to dominate the guys like I did before, and I’ve got to work. It’s that simple.”
That work has included his conditioning. It became apparent that would be an issue on the first day of practice, when Jenkins had to leave early because of heat exhaustion.
But head coach Mark Richt said he has seen improvement from Jenkins.
“I saw Jenkins begin to play harder, practice harder,” Richt said. “Even (Thursday) morning was relatively hot ... I saw him, in particular, pushing and still practicing hard in the heat, which was a really good sign. He’s not the only one, but as we know the first day he didn’t even get through it. But the first day I didn’t even see a push.”
Jenkins was up front that he is experiencing some welcome-to-big-time-football moments. One of the benefits of being a second-teamer is that he goes up against the first-team offense in practice, which means lining up against senior center Ben Jones, a Rimington Trophy candidate.
There have been plays where Jones has gotten the best of Jenkins, who then wanted to fight back. But Jenkins said he has followed those up by asking Jones what he has done wrong, hoping to benefit from the senior’s SEC experience.
“As long as I keep working and Ben Jones coaching me and the offensive line is coming after me like they’ve been doing, I believe my time is going to come,” Jenkins said.
As for his weight being down, Jenkins said he’s not worried. While Georgia fans have salivated about the idea of a 350-pounder clogging the middle, 342 is pretty close, and Jenkins still can run well for a big man.
Jenkins is waiting on one more thing: a practice jersey with his No. 6. He has been wearing No. 66 because the team didn’t have a single-digit number in his size.
The inspiration for Jenkins wanting that number is another nose tackle, Dan Davis, who played at Connecticut while Jenkins was going to high school there. Jenkins recalled advice Davis gave him about making a sacrifice.
The No. 8 was also available this offseason, vacated when star wide receiver A.J. Green went to the NFL. But Jenkins laughed and said that isn’t appropriate.
“If I’m going to get a single-digit number I want to get a sloppy one,” he said, smiling, “because I’m a D-lineman, and there’s nothing pretty about us.”