ATHENS, Ga. --
Jordan Jenkins came to Georgia from Harris County High three years ago with a five-star recruiting rating and lofty expectations. He was to be a bigger, faster Jarvis Jones. None of those expectations were any loftier than his own.
Those expectations only climbed when Jenkins stepped in as a true freshman and started six games. While he learned about playing with intensity on every snap from Jones, he also learned a lesson from another upper classman, strong safety Shawn Williams, something that would stick with him two years later. After exploring his NFL options, Williams decided he could not pass up his senior year.
Jenkins thought of Williams last season.
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Jenkins said he went into preseason camp last year thinking he would stay for his senior year. Any lingering doubt was removed after the Tennessee game in October."After camp I realized, 'Wow, these coaches really know what they're doing. I'm getting good quality work with them. If I spent another year with them, the gain from that is just unbelievable,' " Jenkins said.
Jenkins finished that game with one sack, two tackles for loss and six quarterback pressures and was a big reason the Bulldogs held on for a 34-31 win.
Another spring of learning the defense coupled with a new strength and conditioning program that has him leaner but stronger, Jenkins is justifiably stoked for his senior season. The realization that his college career was coming to an end hit home during practices for the Belk Bowl against Louisville.
"Before every workout, before every run, in my head I'm like, 'This is the last one. Why take this snap off? Why take this run off? Why take it easy?' You can't do that," Jenkins said. "This is my last go-round. I don't want to have any regrets when I leave this place."
Jenkins is back up to 250, his playing weight of two years ago. But his body fat is down from nearly 15 percent to 13 percent. So he's not only stronger but quicker and faster.
"Just healthier weight that's on me now," he said. "I can carry the weight differently now that we've started the new strength program."
There's been another noticeable change about Jenkins. Once a self-described "quiet guy," Jenkins has become more vocal in holding teammates accountable during the offseason.
"I want to be as dominant as I can, and never settle," Jenkins said. "The mental part of it is a big aspect. The Tennessee game, I had it in my head that I'm not getting stopped. If you can work your mind to where you believe you're the best player on the field, it just helps you out so much."
The Georgia coaches have noticed.
"This guy has been taking care of business on the field, off the field," said Georgia coach Mark Richt. "He is one of our better leaders. He works hard at what he's supposed to be doing. But he is a guy who can help raise the level of his teammates. I think they respect him."
If he'd left early, Jenkins certainly would have been drafted at least in the middle rounds. But by staying, he has a chance to fulfill those lofty expectations. Or maybe even exceed them.
"He came in with all the potential in the world. I just seemed like last year it really began to click," Richt said. "I think he knows he can improve, and he knows he has a chance to be pretty good. If he didn't think he was getting better, if he'd thought he had maxed out, then I'm sure he would be gone. But I think he knows he can improve and he's got the desire to do that."
NFLdraftscout.com rates Jenkins as the top outside linebacker prospect for the 2016 draft and a solid first-round pick. It's conceivable he could be a top-10 pick. But that's only if he is consistently dominant.
"I've become more focused mentally and more confident in my game. I'm looking forward to next season, I just have to build that confidence even more. I'm looking forward to becoming even more dominant."
Six months until the season opener might seem like a long time when you're the one getting up for early workouts and carrying full academic load. Jenkins knows better. His first three years have gone by in a blur.
"I was thinking about that the last time I went home," he said. "It really feels like a couple months ago or a year ago I was in high school. Now I'm about to graduate from college, or be done with my final year of football. It's crazy how fast it's gone. You just have to cherish all the time you have."
-- Guerry Clegg is an independent correspondent. You can write to him at firstname.lastname@example.org