CLEMSON – Martin Jenkins was sleeping peacefully in the team hotel the night before Clemson hosted Boston College on Oct. 12, when it happened again.
His shoulder escaped from its socket, and it had nothing to do with tackling drills in practice or deflecting a pass during a game. All he did was roll over on a soft mattress, re-aggravating an injury plaguing him since spring practices.
“Luckily, I don’t think it came all the way out. Probably went back in 10-15 seconds later,” Jenkins said. “That time I was able to sit up and kind of wiggle it back in. Sometimes they have to put it back in for me.”
Pain is Jenkins’ acquaintance far more often than most players, both via freak accidents and genetic disabilities.
The junior cornerback’s shoulder pops out, it seems, “every other week” as head coach Dabo Swinney puts it. Jenkins had to be helped off the field in home games against Georgia and Wake Forest upon contact with opposing receivers. He didn’t return to the field in those games, but he has not missed a contest this season.
He logged a career-high 60 snaps Saturday against Florida State, and might top that this Saturday at Maryland as he makes his sixth career start (third in 2013) opposite Darius Robinson. Per new 2013 rules, Bashaud Breeland is suspended for the first half against the Terrapins after he was ejected for hitting FSU quarterback Jameis Winston in the helmet in the second half Saturday.
Playing most of this season in nickel packages as a fifth defensive back (a hybrid linebacker/safety position), defensive coordinator Brent Venables is comfortable sticking Jenkins on the perimeter.
“He works one-on-one and corner technique every day, so he’ll be fine there,” Venables said. “He’s every bit as good as the other guys, so we’re happy to have him out there.”
Jenkins’ career high for tackles is six, set Oct. 5 at Syracuse, which added to his legend of strange trips to the training staff. On the same day, he broke his thumb, and lost one of his lower teeth making one of those six tackles.
“I took my mouthpiece out and spit it out,” Jenkins said. “It was in a couple of different pieces, so I just spit it all out, put my mouthpiece back in, (and said), Hey, what’s the call, Coach?”
After mouth and hand surgeries two days later, Jenkins was back at practice.
“That guy there is superhuman,” Swinney said on Oct. 9. “I’m telling you, he had surgery on Monday, he’s back out there today with a big ol’ club on his hand and still trying to intercept balls.”
“Probably the toughest guy on the team,” linebacker Stephone Anthony said. “His shoulder pops out, he breaks his thumb, or whatever it is, he’s trying to get back on the field.”
That’s not even the worst of it.
Jenkins’ father, Lee Jenkins, was a cornerback for Tennessee and selected by the New York Giants in the 11th round of the 1983 NFL Draft. Jenkins’ career was abruptly cut short due to arthritis in his knee and in his lower back.
His son Martin inherited the latter.
“That’s a whole another beast right there,” Jenkins said. “Basically, I was getting this really sharp pain in my lower back, upper butt area. I kept going to (Clemson director of sports medicine) Danny Poole, and he tried this, tried that, I don’t know how many things, and nothing really was working.
“It ended up being arthritis, which is pretty painful as people have heard.”
Oh, and Martin Jenkins missed the entire 2012 season with hernia surgery, just to top it off.
“It’s always tough when you get hurt,” Jenkins said. “Sitting out doing something you love, we only get 12 guaranteed days through the whole year, that’s what we work for, so missing one of those is definitely tough.”
With 13 solo tackles on the year and hoping to play all 13 games in 2013, Jenkins is a strong candidate for the ACC’s Brian Piccolo Award, honoring a player overcoming injury to find success on the field.
“That’s definitely special to hear, to be noticed in that regard,” Jenkins said. “Because I have gone through a lot. As y’all know, I’m still going through a lot.”
Not only having earned his stripes through resilience, Jenkins has earned the trust of his coaches and teammates regardless of his position.
“He’s just a smart, conscientious, give-you-every-ounce-of-what-he-has football player,” Swinney said. “He’s one of those guys that when the game is over, you walk off the field, you turn on the film, you know that you’ve got everything that kid has.”
“He’s going to keep fighting,” Anthony said. “He’s not going to be denied. Everybody feeds off that toughness.”