Land of 10 has embarked on a series of Next Generation stories as Iowa writers Scott Dochterman and Bobby La Gesse travel the country to meet the incoming class of freshmen. Here’s a look at 4-star offensive lineman Jeff Jenkins.
CRYSTAL LAKE, Ill. — As a sixth grader, Jeff Jenkins sat transfixed at Prairie Ridge High School football games.
The Wolves ran a triple-option offense full of fake handoffs, well-timed pitches and long runs to rack up wins and wow the crowd.
Jenkins saw none of it.
His eyes rarely left the play of star offensive lineman Shane Evans, watching his every move from pregame warmups to postgame celebration.
“Shane was so much bigger than the other kids, and Jeff could relate to that,” Jean Jenkins, Jeff’s mom, said. “He understood that.”
Shane and Jeff grew up as neighbors in suburban Chicago. As they got older, Shane became Jeff’s mentor and a future Big Ten offensive lineman. By trying to emulate Shane, Jeff found a path to unlock his potential, becoming a two-time state champion and 4-star Iowa-bound offensive lineman.
“I wanted to be just like him,” Jeff said. “The way he went about his life, the way he went about football and the way he worked. I thought if I could do what Shane was doing then, I would be able to get somewhere, too, in life.”
Growing up together
The families moved into the same neighborhood in 2002. Shane was five years older than Jeff, but joined him and Samson in the pool, for football games and on the trampoline.
By middle school, Samson and Jeff dominated youth football. Shane took notice and wanted to help.
Shane wasn’t able to help Samson develop as a quarterback. He could help Jeff, though. The two played the same position, and Shane knew how to work with Jeff, who was already big, athletic and showing a nasty streak.
“Jeff was just as good as I was if not better as a kid,” said Shane, who signed with Northern Illinois in 2014 before transferring to Purdue last year. “He could do the same things I did.”
More than just neighbors
It didn’t take Jeff long to recognize the time and effort Shane put into his workouts. Jeff followed Shane’s lead at Davis Speed Center. If Shane did the bench press, so did Jeff. Squat day for Shane meant squat day for Jeff.
The lessons carried over into their homes, where the duo routinely spent nights working on pass protection sets and throwing medicine balls against basement walls in middle school.
Initially, Jeff’s parents didn’t realize how close Shane and their son had become. Jean finally realized it when Jeff only talked about Shane’s play at the high school games.
Jeff’s dad, John Jenkins, picked up on Shane’s impact when Jeff started correcting anyone who referred to him as anything other than an offensive lineman — despite the fact he played as much defensive line as offensive line.
“It’s pretty awesome that Shane took Jeff under his wing,” John Jenkins said. “Here is this really good high school kid helping this fifth or sixth grader out. I’m not sure I would have done that in high school.”
Shane, a former 3-star prospect, made sure Jeff set his expectations high. He told Jeff his future was in the Big Ten if he stuck to two tenets.
Work hard. Never be satisfied.
“He believed in me that I could be something special,” Jeff said.
Taking the next step
As Jeff grew older, their relationship evolved, with Jeff asking specific questions on blocking techniques, recruiting advice or future opponents. The two still text a few times a week and are in a Snapchat group for Fortnite.
When Jeff wanted to learn to snap earlier this spring, he reached out to Shane. Soon after, the two worked on the basics of playing center.
“I’ve always had a special bond with him, since fifth or sixth grade,” Jeff said. “He’s had a big role in my life.”
Shane passed on his No. 77 Prairie Ridge jersey to Jeff. Shane also took Jeff by the high school to meet coach Chris Schremp before his freshman year. As Jeff shook Schremp’s hand, Shane said the coach needed to meet Jeff because he was going to play varsity football in the fall.
Shane was graduating and knew the returning players. He also knew Jeff and that he was better than most of them.
“I thought that was the coolest thing ever,” Jeff said.
Jeff turned Shane into a prophet, playing four years on varsity, starting on the offensive and defensive lines, and earning all-state honors as a junior and senior.
His 6-foot-3, 260-pound frame, athleticism and physicality drew interest from Purdue, Kansas and Minnesota. He visited Iowa on Jan. 13, 2017. He quickly fell for assistant coach Brian Ferentz, the program’s culture and Iowa’s history of developing offensive linemen. He committed nine days later.
Now, it sets up a potential meeting between mentor and mentee this season.
The two don’t talk too much about the November game. It gets in the way of their next lesson.
“Whenever he needs me, I am there,” Shane said. “We’ll work out, talk a little crap to each other and motivate each other to be the best we can.”