After E.J. Jenkins set foot on Georgia Tech’s campus in June as a transfer from South Carolina, running back Dontae Smith took stock of his new teammate. The first impression may have required Smith to crane his neck backward, as Jenkins is 6-foot-7 and 243 pounds.
“He is huge,” Smith said. “Just really with everybody, I’m looking up to people and I’m like, ‘Where y’all boys coming from?’ These boys are big.”
Among other summer arrivals, Jenkins was joined by at least two other new Yellow Jackets who are similarly expansive, offensive tackle Bobby Mooney (6-7, 331 pounds) and defensive tackle Horace Lockett (6-6, 337), both freshmen. But Jenkins stands out in that he is a wide receiver, possibly the biggest one in the ACC. There are two other wide receivers in the league who are as tall as Jenkins, but neither can match Jenkins’ weight. Wide receivers coach Del Alexander has spent most of his 24-year coaching career tutoring wide receivers at the power-conference level. He has worked with players close to Jenkins’ size, but none quite like this.
“He’s a giant,” Alexander said. “As a coach, the wide receivers coach, you like giants because he can get a mismatch.”
Among the many variables that the Jackets need to fall their way in order to surpass the dim expectations that have been cast upon them, Jenkins ranks near the top. Tech’s passing game has lacked in consistency and dependability in coach Geoff Collins’ three seasons due to shortcomings in pass protection, decision making, passing accuracy and play-calling. Having a dominant playmaker at wide receiver is another. That expectation for Jenkins might be on the high side – he transferred to Tech after catching eight passes at South Carolina last season as a backup, appearing in 12 games. However, the volume of snaps that Jenkins has received in the preseason suggests that coaches see him as an integral piece of the offense.
“I think with E.J.’s size, there’s some things fundamentally that he knows he’s got to work on, and we’re really trying to detail those things,” Alexander said. “But when it comes to a mismatch, you look at a guy that should be able to win a one-on-one in the boundary. And that’s the goal there with him first, and then try to make him something else or use him in multiple spots.”
Jenkins, from Fredericksburg, Va., has drawn hope by often playing with the first-string offense in practice, he said.
“It’s real encouraging and it builds confidence at the same time,” he said. “I just know that everybody gets a fair shot, and they say that if you perform in practice, you’re going to perform in a game. You practice how you play. So all that’s just going to translate coming into the season.”
Jenkins’ path to Tech has been unusual in its own way. Jenkins said he had committed in high school to Old Dominion, but his quarterback at Chancellor High convinced him to switch to St. Francis, an FCS school in western Pennsylvania.
“He kept bothering me for like a good two, three months,” Jenkins said. “‘Just decommit, just come follow me to St. Francis.’ All this and that.”
At St. Francis, Jenkins redshirted in 2017 and, after a five-catch redshirt-freshman season in 2018, made 39 receptions for 779 yards in 2019. He caught 13 for touchdowns, setting a school record. His quarterback was Jason Brown, the high school teammate who influenced Jenkins to come to St. Francis.
However, COVID-19 canceled St. Francis’ 2020 season and then the school also elected not to play in the 2021 FCS spring season, which led Jenkins (and Brown) to go in the transfer portal, both landing at South Carolina.
Making the switch from an FCS school to the SEC did not go easily.
“Especially the workouts,” he said. “I had never worked out like that in my life.”
Further, he was competing with players far more talented than what he had been around at St. Francis.
“It was a real humbling experience, but I also realized what else I had more in the tank, too,” he said. “It was beneficial all the way around.”
Jenkins gained muscle and shared snaps at receiver.
“If you would have told me I would have been part of the 2021 South Carolina football team when I was at St. Francis, I would have thought you were crazy,” Jenkins said. “But it feels like everything happens for a reason.”
After the 2021 season, Jenkins went through spring practice with the Gamecocks, then announced his decision to transfer in April, two days after the conclusion of spring practice. He committed to Tech in May. Jenkins said he did not want to leave South Carolina after last season, but that, “especially for the last year, I wanted to be that guy.” (Brown, Jenkins’ quarterback in high school and then two different colleges, finally parted ways with his receiver, but he is in the Coastal Division at Virginia Tech.)
Coaches obviously want to use Jenkins’ size to Tech’s advantage. Quarterback Zach Gibson called him a nightmare matchup whom nobody wants to defend.
“Looking out there, you look at a DB who’s 6-2 like Myles Sims,” Gibson said. “You’re like, he’s a big, long, lengthy corner. But it’s E.J. – he’s 6-7. He still has 5 inches on ‘Spider.’ It’s like, I still have a great matchup regardless. E.J., he’s a heck of a player, and I think he’s going to produce a tremendous amount for us this year, especially in the red area.”
Jenkins is eager to press the advantages he’s been afforded. It is not difficult to envision him, as Gibson projected, being a dangerous option for Tech inside the red zone, with quarterback Jeff Sims lofting jump balls to him in the corner of the end zone.
“Really just getting body on body on people,” Jenkins said. “They’re not going to want to hold up a 240-pound receiver. So really just leaning on ‘em, wearing and tearing ‘em down and eventually, they’re not going to want to deal with it all game. Really just using what God gave me and just imposing it on other people.”
Jenkins joins an offense that lost 58% of its 205 receptions, including the 66 contributed by starting receivers Kyric McGowan and Adonicas Sanders. Players who have transferred to Tech from other power-conference schools seeking more playing time have typically taken a season to make an impact, if they do. Jenkins, who has one season of eligibility, is a little different in that he has more experience than other previous transfers. Beyond playing, he sees an opportunity to share the wisdom accumulated over a college career that began when some of them were in eighth grade. And he is counting on making the most of the opportunity he’s being given and being, in his words, that guy.
“I know I’m here for a reason, and I’m just waiting to see what that reason is,” he said.
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