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Baggage-laden Janoris Jenkins is looking for a fresh start in the NFL


INDIANAPOLIS -- There are players every year who enter the NFL draft with character issues and off-field baggage in tow, but I'm not sure league talent evaluators have ever quite seen the likes of what North Alabama cornerback Janoris Jenkins carries on the background portion of his resume.

For Jenkins, some of the measurables that might wind up mattering most when it comes to his draft grade are these: Three arrests, one failed drug test, one bar fight, two different college programs and four kids, all age 3 or younger. Kicked off the University of Florida team by new Gators head coach Will Muschamp in April 2011, after his second marijuana-related arrest in three months, Jenkins, 23, spent his senior season at Division II North Alabama, playing in obscurity.

To go from Florida, one of the glamor programs in college football, to tiny North Alabama only underlined for Jenkins all that his behavior had cost him. And still may.

"There was a couple times, where I'd watch my old (Gators) teammates play, and it struck me, it was like 'Man, I'm supposed to be in there with those guys,' '' Jenkins said Sunday afternoon, in one of the most riveting and revealing NFL Scouting Combine interviews anyone could ever remember. "Just thinking about my past.''

Nobody in this draft has a past quite like Jenkins, who in 2008 became just the second true freshman to start at cornerback for Florida in a season opener. He's a first-round talent in the eyes of many NFL scouts, and could go as high as No. 23 Detroit, a team thought to be in the market for a starting cornerback. But his long and eventful rap sheet will take him completely off the draft board for many teams. One veteran league personnel man last week told me that Jenkins' issues with pot at Florida were so extensive that he might have set a new standard for prospects with pre-draft character questions.

Jenkins has been direct with the teams he has met with this weekend in Indianapolis, dealing with each and every one of his red flags in detail.

"(They asked) about my past, the off-field issues, what happened at Florida, and how did I end up at North Alabama?'' Jenkins said. "I was honest, straightforward, and told them I did it. I admitted to everything. Took full responsibility, and that I learned from it.

"I'm pretty sure it will hurt me, but I'm looking past that, looking forward to moving on. Just being successful from here on out.''

Jenkins said two of his three arrests were for possession of marijuana, and the 2009 bar fight was responsible for the third arrest. A league source I talked to last week said Jenkins had tested positive for pot multiple times at Florida, and that his drug issues were more extensive than those that former Colorado cornerback Jimmy Smith carried into last year's draft. Smith wound up going late in the first round, at No. 27 to Baltimore.

Jenkins could be in line for a similar bottom-of-the-first round draft slot if he can convince a cornerback-needy to look past his baggage and invest in his future. Depending on the draft analyst, he's considered the third to fifth highest-rated cover man available, and even his relatively short stature -- he's 5-10, 192 pounds -- won't downgrade him with some teams. He's got strong anticipation skills in coverage and is a physical defender who excels in press coverage.

"They see the talent,'' Jenkins said of NFL teams. "They just want to know what kind of kid I am. I just came here to show them I'm not a bad kid. I made a few mistakes, and I learned from them. Everything I did, I did. I'm admitting. I did it, and I'm looking forward to putting them in my past and move forward.''

Calling Jenkins' off-field track record "a few mistakes'' qualifies as an understatement of breath-taking porportions. Even while at North Alabama, he added to his troubles by being ejected from a game in October for throwing a punch at a Delta State opponent. But despite being thrown at just "four times a game,'' he did turn in a strong season playing for former Auburn head coach Terry Bowden at North Alabama. Jenkins' quality Senior Bowl week in January helped win him another chance to impress scouts at the combine, where he'll run and work out on Tuesday.

"(Being at North Alabama) made me a stronger person, and taught me how to fight through reality,'' Jenkins said. "I have to separate myself from certain guys and certain people, in order to be successful at the next level. I can't do the things I used to do.

"It made me appreciate a lot. Coming from Florida, getting three, four, five (pairs of) cleats a week, gloves; and going to North Alabama, getting one pair of cleats. Playing in front of 3,500 people and (not) being in The Swamp, playing in front of 95,000, is a big difference. It was a learning experience.''

Jenkins said he has told NFL teams his lessons have been learned, claiming his pot use is in his past, and that he hasn't used the drug since just before he got kicked out of Florida last spring. He found out firsthand that it's a very long way from Saturday afternoons in Gainesville to playing on Thursday nights for the North Alabama Lions.

"I'm done with it forever, man,'' Jenkins said. "I can't do it. I can't let myself do it again. I'm very grateful for my second chance. I've got to be grateful, after what I've been through, the four years of my career ups and downs.''

Remarkably, Jenkins is the father of four kids, three boys and a girl, ages 3, 2, 1and three months. He said their futures, in addition to taking care of his own mother, are now the motivation he needs to salvage his football career.

"I have to eliminate myself from some of those guys I used to hang with,'' Jenkins said. "I think about my mom all the time, and my kids. In order for them to have a great life, a nice life, I've got to put that behind me. I've got to be a father to my kids and just be there for my mom.''