Cornerback Janoris Jenkins just finished his fifth NFL season and first with the Giants. He earned his first Pro Bowl nod and was an AP All-Pro second team selection. He joined the team as a free agent after spending his first four pro seasons with the St. Louis Rams. Giants.com's Michael Eisen sat down with Jenkins, or "Jackrabbit" as he likes to be called, for some insight into the cornerback's journey to the NFL and to New York.
Q: Tell me about Pahokee, Fla., your hometown?
Jenkins: “It’s a small town near Lake Okeechobee. Pretty close to Palm Beach. Basically, we’re known for chasing rabbits.
Q: What kind of memories do you have growing up there?
Jenkins: “I have a lot of memories. I have some good ones and some bad ones. My favorite memory as a kid was just going out into the rabbit field and chasing rabbits. Not knowing that it’s a hustle or a way to come up at a young age. Just learning how fun it is, not knowing you’re trying to hustle something.”
Q: Did you get good at catching them?
Jenkins: “Eventually you get good. When you first start it’s slow. The more you go, the better you get.”
Q: Do you have siblings?
Jenkins: “I have one brother and three sisters. I’m the baby. We’re all as close as close can be. We all get along and love each other.”
Q: What did your parents do when you growing up?
Jenkins: A: My mom has always been a cafeteria lady at my high school rival. My dad, he likes driving those 8 wheelers. They’re both still working.”
Q: Did you like sports as a kid?
Jenkins: “I played all sports. I played basketball, baseball, football. Actually, I didn’t really like football until my ninth grade year. That’s because I was so good in baseball. I thought I was going to make it in baseball. My high school didn’t produce baseball players. I caught a hold of that and quickly transferred to football. I started focusing more on football.”
Q: What position did you play in baseball?
Jenkins: “Third base and pitcher.”
Q: Were you a good student in school?
Jenkins: “I was good. I was a popular athlete in my high school. I had to keep a high standard. I liked the class, but I didn’t like class too much. I just found a way to make it through.”
Q: You found a way to keep yourself eligible?
Jenkins: “I found a way to keep myself eligible, stay out of trouble and just make it past high school.”
Q: When you started playing football in the ninth grade, were you a cornerback?
Jenkins: “Actually, I didn’t play cornerback until big games. If a team had a good receiver, I played cornerback. Other than that, I played running back or linebacker. I led the country in interceptions my eighth grade year at free safety. I played everything.”
Q: Did you play varsity as an eighth grader?
Jenkins: “I started varsity in the eighth grade and I played through the 12th grade. My high school went from sixth through 12th. I played varsity from eighth grade.”
Q: Did you play on good teams?
Jenkins: “Yes. We had awesome teams. I played with a guy like Antone Smith. I played from eighth grade and won four championships. I lost my 10th grade year. I won four.”
Q: When did you start hearing from colleges?
Jenkins: “It was ninth grade and I went to the University of Miami. Larry Coker was still the head coach. I went to a camp as a .DB. I only played D.B. that camp. I was out there doing what I had to do. I got an offer there, that day from Larry Coker. After that, they just started rolling in.”
Q: Why did you eventually pick Florida?
Jenkins: “Clemson was my dream school.”
Q: Why was it your dream school?
Jenkins: “I liked the colors for real. I like the way they came down the hill (in their pre-game ritual). I was also talking to Jacoby Ford. He was like a big brother to me. I chose Florida because of (then coach) Urban Meyer. He promised me I would get a degree, promised me I would win a championship and promised me I would make it to the NFL. So I chose Florida.”
Q: You won a championship and you’re in the NFL. Did you get a degree?
Jenkins: “I actually didn’t get my degree. I have two more classes left.”
Q: Are you determined to get your degree?
Jenkins: “Yes, I’m determined. My mentor tries to get me to go back every summer. I told him I’m not ready yet.”
Q: You prefer to be called Jackrabbit, a name you picked up at Florida. How did that come about?
Jenkins: “When I first got to Florida my position coach, Vance Bedford, just threw me out there. We were at practice and I didn’t know what was going on. I didn’t have any idea what I was doing; no clue of the plays. I was just moving fast, making plays. I was making plays. I got in the film room and he saw me ripping and running fast. He was like, ‘You’re moving just like a little jackrabbit.’ After that, everyone started calling me Jackrabbit. Ever since that day, I just stuck with the name Jackrabbit. Me being from Pahokee, the muck. Like I said, where I come from, all we do is chase rabbits. I just carried on the name as much as possible, because people know who I am. But I want people to know where I’m really from and how different it is from other areas around the world.”
Q: You were one of the first true freshman to start at cornerback for Florida. That year (2008), you won the BCS National Championship. What do you remember about that year and stepping onto the big stage as a young kid?
Jenkins: A: I remember I was just young. I didn’t know what was going on. I had guys like Joe Haden. I was lost. I came in in the spring and they just threw me out there with the first team. I didn’t have a clue. I was 18. They through me out there and I’m ripping and running. I was making plays but not within the scheme. because I didn’t know what I was doing. We get in the film room and coach was like, ‘What are you doing?’ He went off on me. I had guys like Joe Haden and Major Wright come to me and they were like, ‘You’re good. Learn the plays and you’ll be alright.’ I just focused on learning the plays through those guys and got out there with the first team.”
Q: You went 13-1 as a freshman and won the BCS National Championship. The next year you were 13-1, but didn’t win the title. Then you went 8-5. As you look back on the three years at Florida, did you have a good time? Did you develop as a player and a person?
Jenkins: “Yes. I think I developed looking back at my three years at Florida. I was kind of depressed that Urban Myer left me, but it was his decision. Once I got to that point where he had left me and he was gone, I got sidetracked. Long story short, I got back on track and now I’m here.”
Q: After he left you could’ve went pro. Did you want to stay to play for Will Muschamp?
Jenkins: “Actually, I didn’t know he was coming in right away. I was just thinking about staying there with Urban. When I realized he was gone, I was kind of upset. I made the decision to come back still.”
Q: You had a few off-the-field incidents and you were dismissed from the team. You then enrolled at North Alabama for your final season – why did you choose that school?
Jenkins: “Coach (Terry) Bowden, he had a name. His dad was coaching at Florida State. He had a lot of Florida State guys at North Alabama. I just felt that it was the best opportunity to give me a chance to make it to the next level. He had resources throughout college football. I just took my chance and I made it.”
Q: You were arrested a couple of times. Were you worried that you have fallen off track?
Jenkins: “At some point you get worried. When you have a strong support staff, nothing could worry you too much. You can either go back to the crib and be on the corner, or you can play football. I told myself that I’m going to play football.”
Q: That was your first time living outside of Florida. What was that year like for you?
Jenkins: “It was humbling. I was away from home and I didn’t know anyone. It made me focus more, knowing that it was possibly my last opportunity. I just started focusing more. I was in the middle of nowhere and didn’t know anyone. I just did what I had to do and stayed clean.”
Q: Was the football good there?
Jenkins: “Yes, it was good. There was a lot of division one athletes that went to North Alabama that were good. One I knew that was really good was Rob Woodson (who began his career at Alabama). He came from Alabama. He played safety and was really good. There was a lot of talent there.”
Q: Was Terry Bowden as much of a mentor to you as coach Meyer?
Jenkins: “They were both kind of the same feeling. It was love and fatherhood. Just come here, do what you have to do, stay out of trouble and you’ll be okay. I took that mentality.”
Q: Is that what he said to you?
Jenkins: “He said, ‘Come here, stay out of trouble and you’ll be okay.’ I followed his rules, did everything he asked me to do and I’m here.
Q: You validated your standing as a very good pro prospect at North Alabama. When you went through the interview process did they ask you about what happened in Florida?
Jenkins: “Yes, I got a lot of questions. I just answered them with all honesty and told them that I had learned from it. I just moved forward.”
Q: A lot of people even today say you were first-round talent. You went in the second round. Did that disappoint you?
Jenkins: “No. It humbled me a lot. I know the guys they took in front of me, I was way better than those guys. I just made up my mind and said that I’m going to have a better first year in the NFL than they have. I stuck with that. I just kept playing ball.”
Q: What was your reaction to go to the Rams?
Jenkins: “I was happy I got drafted. As you do your research and background check, you know they were a losing team. I was kind of depressed but at the end of the day, I still made it. I was looking at that as a positive. I just went in with a chip on my shoulder looking to play football. Just do what the organization needed me to do.”
Q: Individually, you had a good four years there, but the team struggled. What was it like with you playing well, but have the team continually lose?
Jenkins: “It’s stressful. Everyone in the NFL knows it’s stressful. You just have to keep pushing. You have to understand certain situations that you can do certain things. In St. Louis, we were always behind and always down. I just always wanted to make that play.”
Q: What is your best memory of your four years in St. Louis?
Jenkins: “Two interceptions for a touchdown against Arizona. Rookie year.”
Q: When coach (Ben) McAdoo or Spags (defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo) is asked about you, the first thing they say is that you’re competitive, that you have a strong competitive spirt. Where does that come from?
Jenkins: “I just feel like it was always in me. Since I was a kid, I always like to compete. Not just compete as in embarrass someone, but it’s just to compete and get better. I take that and take that very seriously.
Q: When you were in college, you shut down A.J. Green and Julio Jones. When you go against these top receivers, how much does the competitiveness help you succeed?
Jenkins: “If you like to compete, this is the NFL. They like to compete, too. I just feel like I’m going to compete to the best of my ability. Not just one or two plays but every play. I understand as a corner that they’re going to make plays. Things are going to happen. At the end of the day, you have to bounce-back. They might come at you the next play. You just have to stay aware and be ready at all times.”
Q: As a cornerback you need a short memory to push a play aside and move on to the next snap. Are you good at that?
Jenkins: “Very good at it. I don’t pay any mind to it. I just feel like if he got a catch, he earned that catch. I’m on to the next play.”
Q: When you became a free agent, were you looking to go to a new team?
Jenkins: “When I became a free agent, I wasn’t worried about who was picking me up. I was just getting better. Focusing on what I needed to focus on. Hopefully, I get the call.”
Q: Were you open to returning to the Rams?
Jenkins: “Yes. They called me throughout the process. Once they disrespected me like they did (by prioritizing cornerback Trumaine Johnson over Jenkins), I just ended all conversations with them. It is what it is.”
Q: What do you like about the Giants?
Jenkins: “A winning program. It’s an opportunity to win a championship. A nice coaching staff and great players. Everyone around here has a winning mentality. It’s been everything I expected.”
Q: what is it like working every day with Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, Leon Hall, Trevin Wade, and Eli Apple?
Jenkins: “Everything is like a family. Everyone in the room has their role and knows how to play it. We understand that DRC has been here the longest. He’s the older guy. He’s like our pops. They know that I’ve been in the league for four or five years. They know that I’m a vet and they respect me. We understand that Eli is the little bro with good talent. We try and stay on each other. Just keep bonding on and off the field. Going to the movies together. Going to basketball games together. Just doing stuff. I just feel like it brought us closer as a secondary.”
Q: How do you like living in New Jersey?
Jenkins: “It’s been good. The best part about it is the opportunity to see a lot of different things and meet a lot of different people. It helps you market yourself a lot. There’s not much to do. St Louis, it’s big but fan-wise, they love you but they didn’t show up to the games. It’s just a better opportunity for me.”
Q: Do you go into New York City at all?
Jenkins: “I go. I try to avoid the traffic. I hate the traffic.”
Q: Is the traffic the toughest part of your adjustment?
Jenkins: “It depends on where you’re going. From my house to the stadium there won’t be that much traffic. I’m coming from the mall. The Garden State (Plaza) Mall. There won’t be that much traffic. As far as me going from here to New York, you know the time that the traffic picks up. You just can’t avoid it. It stays from like 4:30 to like 7:30, 8. Sometimes 9 depending on what is going on.”
Q: Do people drive differently here than in Pahokee?
Jenkins: “They’re way more aggressive here. In Pahokee, they don’t have any main highways. They just have streets. Here, they drive really aggressive. You have to be aware of the drivers around you and the people that are next to you.”
Q: How are you going to adjust to the cold weather?
Jenkins: “Hey, if there is a will, there is a way. All I can do is adjust.”