By JIMMY WIGFIELD
Theodore all-state running back Brayden Jenkins is having a tougher time finding openings with Division I programs than he did while prying opposing defenses apart for 2,000 yards rushing and 26 touchdowns as a senior.
Jenkins (5-10, 180), who is a member of the National Honor Society and has a 3.9 GPA, said he has received offers from Huntingdon and Millsaps but no Division I programs have shown him serious interest, even after he ran for 2,043 yards on 296 carries — that’s 7 yards per attempt — and 26 touchdowns in 2022.
“He is the most overlooked player in the state,” Bobcats coach Eric Collier said.
Jenkins said South Alabama, North Alabama and Northwestern have talked to him and he visited Florida A&M but he is willing to walk on at USA.
“I like South,” Jenkins said. “They’ve got a good engineering school.”
Jenkins built himself into one of the state’s best running backs in his only season as a starter.
“He ran for 2,000 yards in the toughest region in the state,” Collier said. “Bray has proved himself. He’ll get an opportunity — I just hope it’s a little bigger than what it is right now. He’s not SEC but he could play for Troy or Southern Miss or South. They’ve all evaluated him but they haven’t offered him. … He told me the other day he wants to walk on at South Alabama and South is fine with that. I talked to UAB and they said they want him to walk on.”
Jenkins was sixth in the state in rushing and second in Class 6A despite playing with a high ankle sprain as the season progressed.
“I played through it all season and it got worse at the end,” he said.
Collier — who has had 79 college signees in 10 years at Theodore and 33 all-state players — has often seen his running backs in a recruiting quandary, including former Florida star and Miami Dolphins running back La’Mical Perine and Kierstan Rogers, both of whom had more than 3,000 career rushing yards in high school.
Perine said former Auburn coach Gus Malzahn told him he didn’t have SEC speed and he paid for his own bus ticket to attend a University of Florida camp in the summer of 2014 just so he could be seen. Perine went on to have an all-SEC career with the Gators with 2,485 rushing yards and 22 touchdowns, including an 88-yard TD run in his senior year against the Tigers, who were too slow to catch the player Malzahn said wasn’t fast enough to play in the SEC.
Collier said Rogers, a first-team all-state running back in 2021, was as good as Perine but was shunted by the trend of college coaches emphasizing the transfer portal instead of recruiting high school seniors. Rogers eventually signed with Arkansas-Pine Bluff.
Ironically, Collier said Power 5 recruiters told him Rogers — a downhill runner — needed to be more elusive and catch the ball out of the backfield in the era of spread offenses, skills Jenkins has.
“Bray has great vision and he can put his foot in the ground and get vertical and that’s what people say they want right now,” Collier said. “It’s frustrating. The two things he can do is play running back and also reduce out and play the slot and that is also what everybody is looking for now — a running back who can be a threat in the slot.”
Collier said the transfer portal is hurting high school players and he wants it limited.
“Everybody’s in the portal right now,” he said. “They want that 21- and 22-year-old guy who’s been in college a couple of years and has already developed and can help them win right now. I understand that. They’ll say they’re looking in the portal right now and later on they’ll come back. But they need to come up with one time where they shut the portal down and just recruit the high school kids. maybe a week. But I doubt they’ll do it.”
Jenkins ran for 2,664 yards and 31 TDs in his three-year varsity career and added 37 catches for 501 yards and 8 TDs, averaging 7.8 yards per touch, but colleges have not warmed to him yet.
“It’s probably my size and because it was the first year I was a full-time starter,” Jenkins said.
Jenkins peaked as the Bobcats’ featured back in 2022 and, despite his relatively diminutive size, proved durable and especially reliable, especially when Theodore needed a first down.
“I’m going to keep putting the work in,” Jenkins said. “I’m not frustrated. It’ll work out. I want to get faster and stronger and grow my knowledge of football.”
Reminiscent of what Perine was told about not having SEC-caliber speed for a running back, Jenkins’ 40-yard time ranges from a solid 4.5 to 4.6 seconds.
“They all want a 4.4,” Collier said of the mid-major recruiters. “I’ll tell them if that 4.4 is going to Bama, he’s not coming to you.”
Jenkins ran for 621 yards in limited playing time his first two seasons and surpassed that by the sixth game of his senior year.
“I knew our team would be good because I’ve played with them my whole life,” Jenkins said. “I didn’t know I would do as much as I did.”
Jenkins ran for 200 or more yards three times in 2022, including his breakout game of 263 yards on 31 carries and four touchdowns in a 34-24 win at Opelika. He ran for 221 yards on 39 carries and two TDs to give eventual state champion Saraland its only loss (27-26) and had 209 yards and two TDs in a 41-13 win over Murphy.
“He’ll be OK,” Collier said. “He’s a high-character kid, a hard worker and a good athlete.”