With a father who is a Hurricanes legend and two older brothers who played college football, fifth-year senior safety A.J. Highsmith knows it’s not easy to grab the spotlight among a family of talented athletes.
So he doesn’t envy the position teammate Rayshawn Jenkins is in. The sophomore safety out of St. Petersburg comes from a family of 16 children — more than a few of whom are budding young sports stars themselves.
“I come from a family of five, and I don’t even think I have 16 friends,” Highsmith joked after a recent spring practice.
“I’m pretty sure that’s where he got that hunger to compete. Being one of 16 you’ve got no choice.”
Charles Jenkins, father to Rayshawn and 12 of his other siblings, has two sons playing high school football; a daughter, Charlisa, a 6-1 sophomore forward who was among the leading scorers in Pinellas County this past season; and a 10-year-old son Kevary, who scored 30 touchdowns last season in Pop Warner football.
But Rayshawn, who once shared a room with three brothers (he said they alternated daily who would sleep on the bed and who would sleep on the floor), is the biggest family star at the moment. And once you get Mr. Jenkins talking about his fourth child, he doesn’t stop until he talks about the talents of all his children.
“My daughter is a good one — she’s going down with her AAU team to Miami. Hopefully she gets to meet [UM women’s basketball coach] Katie Meier,” said Jenkins, who runs a tattoo shop and a T-shirt business that has contracts with many of the high schools in the Tampa-St. Pete area — just enough income, he says, to feed and care for all of his kids.
“[UM offensive line coach] Art Kehoe already gave my 10-year-old his business card and told him he’d be back for him soon. He’s just like Rayshawn was growing up — a do-it-all threat and a good student, too. For me, it’s all about raising these kids, keeping them out of trouble and giving them hope.”
Rayshawn, a state champion hurdler who played offense, defense and special teams at tiny Admiral Farragut Academy when he was in high school, is the one providing the example to his siblings that with hard work dreams can come true, his father said.
After coming on late in the season last year and finishing with 27 tackles and an interception (at USF in front of his family and friends).
Jenkins, 6-1, 215 pounds, has continued to run with the first team during the spring alongside Highsmith and fellow sophomore Deon Bush and impressed coaches with his continued growth.
Jenkins, who gave up a 99-yard touchdown pass in the season-ending win over Duke because he had a miscommunication with cornerback Brandon McGee, said his goal this spring has been making sure he’s in the right spot all the time.
“I got myself better conditioned so we won’t be that team that dies out in the fourth quarter,” Jenkins said. “I’m working on breaks, getting smarter at the game. I’m glad I played last year because I really know what to expect. As far as coming out and tackling and reading certain formations, I can do that.”
Jenkins wasn’t wearing a black jersey — designated for starters/team leaders during practice Tuesday. But he and Bush have worn them at times during camp according to defensive backs coach Paul Williams, who adds “Rayshawn has got the tools, the traits, but we got to clean his game up as far as running the show, being more consistent.”
In addition to packing on 15 pounds of muscle in the offseason, Jenkins has also increased his bench press “40 to 50 pounds” and is now lifting 325 pounds regularly. He said when he and his teammates were tested with the Combine weight of 225 pounds he produced 17 reps, a vast improvement from his freshman year and currently tops among the defensive backs. Jenkins’ squat numbers have also gone up 40 pounds to 390.
Last year Jenkins ran the 40-yard dash in 4.51 seconds. Jenkins said he expects to be faster — even with the added weight — when he’s tested again after the spring.
“Very gifted raw talent,” UM coach Al Golden said of Jenkins. “He’s an explosive player that can play big.”
Jenkins also changed another number this spring — his jersey — from 29 to 26, the number once worn by the late great Sean Taylor.
“He always admired Sean Taylor and the work he put in,” Charles Jenkins said. “Rayshawn told me when that number came open this season he wanted it because he wanted to make it great again.”
Highsmith said he believes Jenkins can be special once he puts it together.
“It’s a lot to live up to,” Highsmith said of wearing Taylor’s number. “But he knows what goes into it, and I think he can hold his own. Before, you had to wonder if Rayshawn was going to be in the right spot to make the plays. Now he understands where to be and where to fit to make the play. It’s just a matter of time with him.”