Jelani Jenkins cleaned out his locker on Dec. 29.
Seven days later, he was back in school.
Jenkins, the Dolphins’ ascendant linebacker, is spending his second NFL offseason hitting the books instead of a blocking sled, tackling advanced classes such as biomechanics and sports nutrition.
Jenkins is working to finish his degree at the University of Florida, where he spent parts of four years before declaring for the NFL Draft. Jenkins technically left early; he had another year of eligibility when he went pro.
Now he’s back, taking five classes this semester and closing in on lifetime goal: a college degree.
“It was always important,” Jenkins told the Miami Herald on Wednesday. “The expectation, even after I left early, was that I’d come back and finish my degree. Academics are something very important to my family.”
His father, Maurice, is a highly regarded architect in Washington. His mother, Stephanie Hall, has a PhD.
And if all goes to plan, Jenkins will have a degree in applied physiology and kinesiology in December. Although his coursework should be done after this semester, he still needs an internship to finish his curriculum. He’s hoping the Dolphins will offer him one.
Based on the way he performed in 2014, they would be foolish not to give him most anything he wants.
Jenkins was a spot linebacker and special-teams contributor as a rookie. But after Dannell Ellerbe went down with a season-ending injury in September, Jenkins emerged as one of the organization’s most pleasant surprises.
Jenkins led the team with 108 tackles (including 81 solo), had 3 1/2 sacks and forced two fumbles — one of only three players in the league with such a gaudy stat line. The others were David Harris (Jets) and Jamie Collins (Patriots).
In Miami’s Week 13 win over the Jets, Jenkins had a career-high 16 tackles, the most for a Dolphins defender since Zach Thomas had 21 on Dec. 17, 2006.
Jenkins said he is pleased, on balance, with his performance last year. But that doesn’t mean he’s satisfied.
“I think I can do a lot of things well, but I just need to be consistent,” Jenkins said. “I’m really competitive, so when I make a bad play, I tend to harp on it.”
Even with his demanding schoolwork, Jenkins should have the time to take that next step. He’s working out in the UF weight room — he already has run into fellow former Gators Riley Cooper, Jaylen Watkins and Josh Evans — and plans to shuttle back and forth between Gainesville and South Florida over the next couple of months.
Plus Florida’s semester schedule works to his advantage; Jenkins thinks he will be done in time for the start of Organized Team Activities.
In the meantime, it’s study, study, study. And despite being older — and more affluent — than most of the other undergraduates, he is not exactly pulling a Rodney Dangerfield this winter.
Jenkins spends most of his time at an off-campus apartment; four of his five courses are online.
“I don’t show my face too much around campus,” he joked.
Jenkins’ academic focus is on fitness and wellness; he plans to someday work in the strength and conditioning field. Once his playing days are done, he would like to either be a personal trainer and possibly own his own gym, or work for a team as a strength coach.
But first he will have to finish his coursework and earn that degree.
“It’s something that I really take pride in, just walking across that stage,” Jenkins said.