It’s not the easiest journey for Sharon Jenkins to go watch her son, Greg, play football. Seeing that the former Wesley Chapel High standout plays in Oakland, about 2,900 miles away from his hometown of Dade City.
But for Greg, a wide receiver/return specialist for the National Football League’s Oakland Raiders, his unique path to the highest level of professional football has made it all worthwhile.
Coming out of Wesley Chapel in 2008, Jenkins was not a heralded prep recruit at the quarterback position. College offers seemed scarce initially and any likelihood of playing on the Division I level would have to come through taking the junior college route. Jenkins accepted a preferred walk-on offer to play at Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College, with the prospect of playing quarterback luring him to Perkinston, Miss.
During his time with the Bulldogs, Jenkins threw for 3,497 yards and 37 touchdowns. He set school records for touchdown passes, rushing scores by a quarterback and numerous other marks.
Jenkins moved on to Troy University, but after the offensive coordinator that recruited him left for Texas Tech, Jenkins opted to leave.
“My goal going to Troy was to play quarterback, but I wasn’t too sure if I was going to get that opportunity,” Jenkins said. “I ended up transferring to Alabama State and I felt like that really helped grow me as a player.”
He threw for 1,691 yards and accounted for 17 touchdowns, but changed positions to wide receiver for a chance to play pro football.
“On the college scene, all I wanted to play was quarterback, but once I found out my chance to play in the NFL was at receiver, I was willing to do whatever it took,” Jenkins said.
Potential tragedy struck, however, during Jenkins’ time away from his home in Dade City when his mother was diagnosed with breast cancer. Consumed with chasing his dream of playing in the NFL and proceeding with pro workouts, Jenkins made daily calls and sent text messages to his mother to stay strong throughout the process of getting treated.
“”I didn’t feel like it was that much of a struggle with God on my side,” Sharon Jenkins said. “They found the cancer in February (2013) and I had my first appointment for treatment not long after. I had quite a bit of family by my side the whole time. Greg (Jenkins) was calling and texting me every day telling me I was his superwoman and that really helped me keep going. I just kept it moving and everything ended up being alright.”
Sharon Jenkins would receive chemotherapy and radiation treatments from over at the Moffitt Cancer Center in Tampa and went through a couple surgeries to remove the cancer. She credits the help of longtime family friend Fannie Harmon with taking her to and from the treatment center and being there everyday for her and her sons.
“(Fannie Harmon) is 70 years old and she’s been there for me and the boys for as long as I can remember,” Sharon Jenkins said. “She’d drive me back and forth for the treatments and I’m just so grateful for her.”
Greg’s opportunity to play in the NFL finally came in the spring of 2013, as the former quarterback-turned-wideout signed as an undrafted free agent with the Oakland Raiders.
In his second NFL game, a nationally televised contest on Thanksgiving against the Dallas Cowboys, he picked up a fumble on the opening kickoff and returning it 23 yards for a touchdown. The euphoria back home could be felt, as Jenkins’ TD sparked celebrations all around from his family in Dade City.
“You would’ve thought we were at the game by how excited we were when he scored that touchdown,” Sharon Jenkins said. “We were sitting around one of my cousin’s house and we were screaming so much when he scored against the (Dallas) Cowboys. I thought he was going to keep the ball, but he was caught up in the moment. But that’s Greg. He just keeps going with the flow of things.”
In returning back home during his time off from the Raiders, Jenkins has had a role model influence on many of the kids in the Dade City and Wesley Chapel area.
“It’s surreal,” Greg Jenkins said about coming back home as a role model. “It still hasn’t hit me yet that I’m living the dream. People back home treat me different, but I still feel the same. The kids, it’s pretty fun interacting with them. There’s a lot of college athletes in the country and if a college offers you a scholarship, why not ride out the process. You get a free education and to not go through it, that’s silly and that’s putting it nicely. Nothing is guaranteed at the end of the day.”
Correspondent Andy Villamarzo can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @avillamarzo