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Thursday, Feb. 29, 2024
The Observer

JEFF JENKINS: Jenkins lives father's legacy on the football field

It was just nine carries for 43 yards, stats not meant for any SportsCenter highlight or All-America team. But for Jeff Jenkins, his performance in Notre Dame's 20-17 loss to BYU in the 2004 season opener meant more than any accolade or television spot.

"At a young age, [my father] kind of gave up," Jenkins said. "When I came here, he wanted to see me play - here at the University of Notre Dame."

His father had played football at Western Michigan for a time, only to quit. So when Jenkins' uncle and dad sat in the stands, watched him suit up for the Irish and take a few snaps at running back, a dream was fulfilled.

"It was a great experience," Jenkins said. "I can't even put it into words. I just wanted to play for my uncle and my father more than anything. They've sacrificed a lot for me, so I just wanted to show them that I could play here."

Jenkins will graduate from Notre Dame with a double major in political science and computer applications, a degree that will hopefully help him live out another dream -to work in federal law enforcement. Jenkins' uncle works in the prison system, and he has inspired Jenkins to that line of work.

"My father's my role model, but I always looked up to my uncle, too," he said. "I was always interested in some of the stories that he told. I always liked war movies and cop movies and stuff like that. Cops is one of my favorite shows."

The Ann Arbor, Mich. native isn't exactly sure where he wants to work - he hopes to get a job in the FBI, State Department or Secret Service.

But he is definitely certain Notre Dame was the right school for him. Growing up no more than five or 10 minutes from the Big House, Jenkins always wanted to play for the Maize and Blue. But after finishing his career at Huron High School with a city record 3,970 yards and 60 touchdowns, Michigan just wasn't where he was meant to go.

"I think God directed me here," Jenkins said. "Everything else was crumbling and Notre Dame stood tall through it all. Notre Dame was the only option for me and it was just God's will and God's grace that got me here."

His time playing for the Irish hasn't been spectacular statistically. He won't leave with any school records or many career rushing yards. But he is thankful for meeting some lifelong friends in Notre Dame receiver Maurice Stovall and running back Travis Thomas.

"Those are the two guys who have stood tall with me," Jenkins said. "They'll always be my brothers, my pals.

Stovall, who is also playing his last game at Notre Dame Stadium on Saturday, intends to stay friends with Jenkins for quite some time.

"Because we live in the same dorm [O'Neill Hall], he's always been there for me when I've had bad times off the field and on the field," Stovall said. "I feel as if I've known him my whole life and he's a good friend of mine."

The last chapter of Jeff Jenkins' football dream, as well as his father's, will be written Saturday when he suits up for the Irish one more time. Jenkins hopes to score a touchdown, just like every running back does, he said. His mom and dad will be in the crowd. So will his girlfriend, Jihan Rush.

Thoughts of his family and the goals he has achieved will rush through his mind as he runs onto the field. So will the memories of his teammates who have stuck with him for those quick four years.

"Just coming out there one last time with those guys at the University of Notre Dame will be unbelievable," Jenkins said. "The last time ... it won't set in until I put that helmet on and walk out of the tunnel."