Thanksgiving preview: Jenkins wants taste of victory against Central

Jaseim Jenkins will lead the Northeast football team in its annual game against Central. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO

High school didn’t start out the way Jaseim Jenkins thought it would.

But since then, everything has fallen into place.

Jenkins is a senior on the Northeast High School football team, but when he was a freshman, he was at Freire Charter and had he played football, he would have had to play for Simon Gratz. He decided to focus on his studies instead.

But once he got to Northeast, the Oxford Circle resident got back to doing what he’s been doing his whole life.

“I played football since I was 5, but when I was at Freire Charter, it was a rocky road and I didn’t play,” said Jenkins, a 5-foot-11, 220-pound linebacker. “I transferred (before sophomore year) and as soon as I got to Northeast, I started playing. I’m really happy I did.

“Growing up, I always played football and since I was always the biggest kid on the team, I usually played line, offensive tackle or defensive end. But I moved to linebacker and that’s what I play now. That’s my favorite position.”

Jenkins was a talented, but raw football player when he arrived at Northeast, but after working with the Vikings, he’s become a seasoned star. This year, he became a full-time starter and he’s now using everything he learned over the years to help his younger teammates.

They’re fast learners.

“I was so lucky because Northeast has great linebackers, I had a lot of good role models to look up to, I just watched them and learned,” Jenkins said. “I didn’t get a lot of playing time, but I was always there, learning. And they always took time to work with me.

“The whole defense is good, but the linebackers really work hard. We have a great coach (Seth Shapiro). He is very hard on us, but he’s hard on us because he really cares about us. All the coaches do. With (Shapiro), you just have to pay attention, listen to him and do what he says. He’s so good at teaching, it’s not hard. I just pay attention and when I do what he says, it usually works out.”

Jenkins will be all ears on Thanksgiving morning when he leads the Vikings into their annual game against Central in the nation’s longest rivalry on the holiday.

Northeast has dominated the Lancers in recent years, but Central is on a bit of a roll, winning its last two games to improve to 2-5 on the season. Northeast struggled out of the gate, dropping three games early in the year, including a tight setback to Imhotep Charter, but since then the Vikings have been doing what they always do, advancing deep into the playoffs.

The Thanksgiving game isn’t a playoff game, but ask anyone in the school and beating Central might be bigger than winning a state championship. So that’s how Jenkins and his teammates will approach the game.

“This year is really special because COVID ruined last year, so this is a chance for us to have a fun game against our rivals,” Jenkins said. “Last year, there was a lot going on for the seniors. I felt so bad for them, it was difficult, nothing went their way. They didn’t get to have this game, so we want to take advantage of it.

“Now I’m starting, I’m nothing but thankful. It’s fun to play them because Central is good. It’s fun. Football is one of the things I’m thankful for. We’re going to play, have fun, get the young guys in, get guys reps. I hope we have a great day. I want them to be great. Extremely fun to play Central, and we’re all going to have fun doing it.”

Jenkins’ days as a Northeast football player are winding down. Since he joined the team, a lot has changed.

Football helped him come out of his shell, and the better he’s gotten over the years, the more comfortable he’s been about sharing his knowledge of the sport.

“When I got here in 10th grade, ask my coaches, I had no technique and I had so much to learn,” Jenkins said. “I had great coaches and great mentors, and now I’m trying to do the same for guys here.

“On the field, I’m quite the character. In person, I’m a standoffish guy, stick to school, mind my business, but on the field, I’m a totally different guy. I try to have fun and I always try to mentor guys when I can. The seniors are the leaders on this team, and I’m a senior, so I think I have to be a leader.”

Jenkins hopes to continue his football career next year in college. He’s unsure where, but he knows he wants to work with animals. Right now, he’s looking at becoming a veterinarian or a zoologist.

A lifelong animal lover, Jenkins is happiest when he’s around his animals and would like to make sure he can keep other people’s pets healthy.

“My dad always had animals, and so have I,” said Jenkins, a strong student in the classroom. “I’ve had animals my whole life. I have a lizard. I have all kinds of reptiles. I have a dog and a cat now. A pit bull who is very happy and an older cat.

“My dad loves animals, my mom likes them, but she’s great because she lets me and my dad keep whatever we bring home. I want to help animals, I know I want to work with them. If I can do that, I’ll be really happy.”