Not many make it out of Jena, Louisiana. A small town on the outskirts of Alexandria with a population of just under four thousand, it's a town where everybody knows your name. It's also the town where LSU sophomore Jaray Jenkins calls home and where he honed his receiver skills that are now being put on display every Saturday.
"A lot of people in Jena don't really make it out and as a kid my dream was scoring touchdowns for the Tigers," Jenkins said.
On Saturday at Arkansas, Jenkins finally got to achieve that lifelong dream. As time wound down in the fourth quarter and the Tigers facing a third-and-13, quarterback TJ Finley took the snap out of the shotgun, felt some pressure and was able to extend his time in the pocket.
In the meantime, Jenkins saw that the Razorbacks had dropped eight players into coverage, meaning the most prudent way to get the ball was to find the open space. Jenkins' route called for a post route in the middle of the field but seeing the field clogged and Finley on the move, Jenkins quickly directed course and was able to find the opening for the touchdown reception.
While it was a moment he wished had come in Tiger Stadium with 102,000 of Louisiana's finest cheering him on, Jenkins said it's a moment he'll remember forever.
"I looked around the field and saw the open spot, I ran to it and I trusted TJ that he would find me and he found me," Jenkins said. "I was excited in the moment but I had to know it was a bigger stage and we still had to fight for the game."
It turned out to be the game-winning touchdown catch and was just the first of what the 6-foot-4 Jenkins hopes is many more to come. Coming into the season, one of the question marks was always going to be who fills in for the loss of Justin Jefferson and later Ja'Marr Chase.
The speculation was one of the young freshmen, Kayshon Boutte and Koy Moore or possibly sophomore Trey Palmer would step into that role. Maybe it would be one of the older receivers in Racey McMath or Jontre Kirklin. While all of those guys have certainly had their moments this season, in fact it's been Jenkins that has proved most consistent outside of Arik Gilbert and Terrace Marshall.
"So proud of Jaray, his first year he had to learn how to play Division I football. He kept on working and he's turned into a team leader for us," coach Ed Orgeron said. "He told me before the game 'Coach we got this' and then he catches the game winning pass. He's a tremendous young man and it just goes to show you that once you stay around the program you develop and you'll be able to play here."
Through six games, Jenkins ranks third on the team in both receptions (16) and yards (277). After redshirting his true freshman season in 2018 and recording five catches in 2019, Jenkins knew his time was coming and that hard work has a lot to do with the success he's having now.
"I've been around some guys like Ja'Marr and Jetts (Jefferson), I learned a lot from them and seeing the progress they had made," Jenkins said. "Working with them, it boosted me up because I want to be like them and better than them so it just made me grind harder."
Linebacker Jabril Cox said the hard work and consistent practice performances from Jenkins has led to his on the field success.
"We've seen it in practice and he was able to show it in games but he's one of those underdog, sleeper receivers that a lot of people don't give the credit to," Cox said. "He comes in, works hard every day and everything that he's put in is showing on the field and he's been doing a great job."
Jenkins knew this past offseason was going to be huge in terms of getting an opportunity to show the coaching staff how much he had improved. He also knew that a strong showing in training camp would likely lead to more snaps early in the season.
So he worked and worked some more. From his five catch, 85-yard breakout performance against Mississippi State in game one, Jenkins has carved out a significant role in this offense.
"I knew I had worked hard. People weren't counting on me but I knew what was at stake," Jenkins said. "I knew my time was coming and when it came I took advantage of it and I'm not looking back."