Mike Jenkins has had his share of tragedies on and off the field.
It’s why the Dallas Cowboys cornerback by the way of Southeast High was so moved before his team got its first win of the season Sunday against Houston.
The Cowboys received a different kind of rally cry before the game that didn’t contain the usual fire and brimstone you might find in a typical NFL locker room.
It may have resonated more with Jenkins than any player wearing the helmet with the blue star.
Never miss a local story.
Dallas special teams coordinator Joe DeCamillis touched his heart when he spoke of how he laid on the ground in a pile of rubble in the spring of 2009 after the Cowboys practice facility collapsed on him. It broke his neck and left scouting assistant Rich Behm paralyzed.
Speaking on the subject for the first time, DeCamillis told the players at that moment he had to make a decision on whether he wanted to live or die.
DeCamillis equated his situation to that of the Cowboys, who were sitting at 0-2 and could feel the Grim Reaper hanging over their heads ready to plunge his dagger into their hearts.
The message was more about life than getting a win, but it breathed fresh air into a football team that was living on a respirator with the plug about to be pulled.
Jenkins knows personally how fragile life between the hash marks can be. He has lived his own reality show filled with too many of those moments.
DeCamillis’ talk reinforced what Jenkins already knew; that life can end anytime, anywhere. But that kind of conversation never loses its impact.
“During the second quarter going into halftime, he (DeCamillis) kept saying what do you want to play for, who do you want to play for and what do you want to live for,” Jenkins said. “His story (is what sticks with you). The guy broke his neck, he is back with us, never missed any time, maybe a week and it showed how strong he is.”
The 25-year-old Jenkins knows the game he has played since his youth football days in Manatee County is fickle and can turn on you in a minute.
In his first college game at USF in 2004, Jenkins and teammate Javon Camon delivered a clean but devastating blow to Tennessee Tech’s Drew Hixon that sent him into a coma.
It took Jenkins awhile to get over that incident and it affected his play. Fortunately, Hixon eventually recovered to the point where he now says he is about 87 percent back to normal and this year earned a masters degree, though he had to learn how to walk and talk all over again.
Camon tragically died in an indoor football league game in 2007. It was another crushing blow to Jenkins, but all his life he has tried to make something positive out of a negative.
After the death, he dedicated the rest of his college career to Camon and played at an incredible level that eventually earned him All-American honors and enabled him to become a first-round NFL pick.
“Javon played the game with a passion until the end, and it left me thinking that is the only way to play it,” Jenkins said at the time.
The former All-American was nursing a sore knee all last week that limited his practice time and had to go against the Texans’ Andre Johnson, another All-American who learned his trade at Miami.
There is something about playing against other Floridians that brings out the best in Jenkins. It’s a personal kind of bragging rights to him, and he wants to show his gratitude to the USF program and coaches, who filled a big void in his life when he was there.
He apparently has never forgotten the moments and lessons he shared and learned from Camon.
Jenkins intercepted the Texans’ heralded Matt Schaub, had two tackles and one pass deflection. It was his first pick of the season.
In his third year with the Cowboys, Jenkins seems to be picking up where he left off last season when he led Dallas with six interceptions and had a career high 60 tackles.
Alan Dell, sports reporter, can be reached at 745-7080, ext. 2112.