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Getting defensive
Jenkins switching to linebacker at Palmetto Prep
Will J
WILLIAM JENKINS SIGNS his letter of intent with Palmetto Prep while joined by, from left, his father and mother, William and Ernestine Jenkins, and his grandmother, Bessie Jenkins. Standing, from left, are North Central head football coach Louis Clyburn, NCHS principal David Branham, Jenkins younger brothers, Tyrek and Jeremiah, and NCHS assistant football coach Robbie Cash.

It looks like the Clyburn family will be on the lookout for new babysitters.

When William Jenkins signed a letter of intent with Palmetto Prep, it not only took the leading rusher in the history of North Central High School away from Louis Clyburn’s football program, but it left him with one less of his former players to watch over his four children.

"It’s unbelievable the kind of a young man that William has become," Clyburn said following Jenkins’ signing ceremony held inside the NCHS gymnasium. "He was an eighth-grader when we first got here and he has grown tremendously as a person, in all aspects.

"As a person, he’s a kid you can trust. Coaches use the cliché about giving a kid your wallet and trusting him with it. William is certainly one of those guys. Heck, I even trusted him with watching my kids. He’s that kind of a person. He’s special to us at here at North Central and to the Clyburn family."

On the field, the 6-foot, 220-pound Jenkins ran for a school-record 3,134 yards while scoring 25 touchdowns. This past fall, he carried the ball 213 times for 1,088 yards with nine trips to the end zone. He also was on the receiving end of five passes for 45 yards.

With numbers like that, you would think any program would be giddy to have such a player joining their backfield. But Palmetto Prep has other plans for Jenkins. Due to having signed too many running backs, Jenkins will be asked to play on the other side of the football, lining up either as a linebacker or at defensive end.

The shift is fine with Jenkins who played sparingly on defense to the point in which he made all of one tackle in 2014. He did play some linebacker as a sophomore but once he became the bell cow of the NC ground game, his snaps on defense were few and far between.

As for himself, Jenkins welcomes the new challenge of playing a new position for head coach Wes Dorton’s Minutemen.

"I told the coach that I would play anywhere they wanted me to play," Jenkins said of the anticipated role change.

"I took off as a running back and did a lot of great things here as a running back but I just want to play ball. If you want to play ball, you’ll go out there and do anything. It doesn’t really matter to me."

Those who saw Jenkins during his career as a Knight witnessed a running back who brought a defensive mentality onto the field, especially when he ran the football. As a junior, Jenkins would run at defenders as opposed to trying to avoid contact. In more cases than not, he was the one delivering the blow.

That style changed his senior year, onc in which changes to Jenkins’ body allowed him to maneuver his way around would-be tacklers.

"He certainly evolved as a running back," Clyburn said of Jenkins. "Two years ago, we would tell him, ‘William, if you would just make a break and go outside, you can outrun some people.’ He did that more this past year."

"My junior year, I was bigger," Jenkins said when asked the change in his running style. "By my senior year, I turned the fat into muscle and I got faster. I was a different type of runner in my senior year than I was as a junior."

Should the Minutemen need Jenkins to return to carrying the football, he said he would be more than happy to fill that need which he told the coaches during the recruitment process. For Clyburn, the thought of Jenkins playing linebacker is something which he and his coaching staff imagined when they first saw Jenkins as a freshman. But he was too valuable with the football in his hands to the team than to wear him out by playing both ways.

"I’ve said, all along, that linebacker may be William’s natural position. We played him at linebacker sparingly because we were using him so much at running back," said the NC boss. "His junior year, against Columbia, he had 45 carries. When you’re using a kid that much, it was unfair to ask him to play defense.

"If will be interesting to see what his football future holds in terms of position. But his mental attitude about the game and practice will be what carries him. He will be successful wherever they put him."

Jenkins will re-join former Knight teammates Reggie Outten, a rising sophomore linebacker, and Hunter Wyant, an incoming quarterback, at Palmetto Prep.

As for what changes he envisions at the next level, Jenkins said being on his own dictates that he will have to make changes and make his own decisions from now on. He could not stop smiling though when asked what signing day meant to him.

"Probably, it’s going to be my maturity," he said of being away from his family for the first time. "I’m going to have to mature more and focus on doing the right things and not getting into trouble. I’m just going to go down there and do what I have to do and, hopefully, something else good will happen while I’m there.

"But this is really great. I couldn’t wait for this day to happen. All my hard work finally paid off and I get to see my mom and daddy, and my brothers who have all been supporting me all this time, all happy for me."

Clyburn said Jenkins got off to a bumpy start academically at North Central, "but he kept working, pushing and persevering and really succeeded in the classroom. That type of mindset helps him prepare for football."

The North Central head coach and former assistant football coach at Appalachian State, Duke, Lenoir-Rhyne and Elon, said Jenkins is the type of player whose performance and deeds on the field makes him a leader when those skills are needed in the huddle or the locker room.

"When William Jenkins said something, he had the respect of his teammates," Clyburn said. "He didn’t talk a lot and he didn’t say a lot but in that huddle out there on that field, when he spoke up, his teammates listened.

"He had gained their respect and wasn’t a guy who would just rattle off at the mouth at every turn. When he said something, it was usually important. That kind of leadership, both on and off the field, is going to be missed here at North Central."

His talents on the gridiron drew plenty of interest Jenkins’ way from East Carolina University, a program which stayed in contact with him over the past two years. Playing at Palmetto Prep for the next two falls will expose Jenkins to a wider group of schools not to mention showing his ability to play more than one position.

"I had a lot of letters from East Carolina," he said. "If any other four-year college comes looking at me through this whole juco process, I would be willing to go there. I’m just excited and ready to go out and play football again."

Clyburn said the decision by Jenkins to attend Palmetto Prep is one which, he believes, will be beneficial to his former running back in the long run.

"A school like Palmetto Prep offers two vehicles for young men," Clyburn said. "If a young man isn’t recruited to the level they want to be recruited to, it allows them to grow athletically and to grow as a football player. The other piece of it is, academically if they are deficient in certain areas it allows them to make up their deficiency. William will try to get his associate’s degree from Midlands Tech while he’s playing at Palmetto Prep. And after that two-year period, he’ll have the chance to be recruited all over again.

"A lot can happen over those two years and they have already talked to William about still having to put academics first, especially when it comes to wanting to take that next step. We look for him to be successful both in the classroom and on the football field."