Jmarion Jenkins-Gooch is 15 years old and has yet to play a down for The King’s Academy football team; meanwhile, Tennessee, Florida State, Miami, Virginia Tech and South Carolina have all offered him scholarships in the last three weeks.
This may help clear it up: Jenkins-Gooch stands almost 6-foot-8, weighs 305 pounds and sports a wingspan of nearly 7 feet. He’s projected to be a Power 5 offensive tackle but also carries the skillset to play defensive line.
“I, personally, have never seen a kid this big be able to bend and move as well as he does,” said second-year TKA coach Jonathan Sellers. “He has a lot of tools in his tool box and is gifted athletically.
“There’s still some skills that need to be developed, since he’s just getting done with his sophomore year. He’s working with some trainers to get better. But he’s working harder to get ready for that next level.”
Jenkins-Gooch is relatively new to Knoxville, having just enrolled at TKA in the spring semester. But over the last month, he has clearly shown himself to be not only one of the biggest recruiting prospects in the area but also one of the top players to watch for the coming 2019 season.
How Jenkins-Gooch ended up here, though, isn’t some tale of good fortune to complement this recent rise in the recruiting realm.
Life proved unkind to the teenager, taking his family from him.
But he’s pushing back. Like a good lineman should.
“He’s doing well,” said Sellers. “With someone as young as him — which is the hardest part, because when you see him he looks like a grown man but he’s a 15-year-old boy. But you take any 15-year-old and you drop them off in Seymour, Tenn., and tell them ‘good luck,’ there’s a transition.
“But after a few weeks here and meeting kids in the school, I really think he’s flourished. He’s done well academically here for us and he’s doing well socially. On the football field, he’s a stud for us. All in all, I think it’s been a smooth transition for him, and I think he’s enjoying it.”
A NEW FAMILY, A NEW HOME
Maybe that wasn’t the case when Jenkins-Gooch first arrived Seymour, and for good reason. Had he been in a spiral, no one could have blamed him.
Jenkins-Gooch’s father died when he was 7 years old. His mother died last year on her birthday. A month after that, his grandfather passed.
“How did I handle it? I just stayed to myself a lot,” Jenkins-Gooch.
All that was left of his immediate support system was his grandmother and a cousin. It wasn’t the most ideal of situations during a teenager’s formative years and school was beginning to find its way to the back burner.
“They had to figure out a way to get him to where he was in a stable environment,” Sellers said of his family. “Because of the situation and them not expecting to have to take care of Jmarion, they had to find a stable spot.
“They reached out to us.”
At TKA, Jenkins-Gooch has found a new family, or in his words: “I feel like I’m home. I feel like I’m wanted.”
Assistant coach David Jeffers has played a large role in this adjustment period of life for Jenkins-Gooch, just as he did for former TKA great and current Tennessee freshman football player Chris Akporoghene.
“He’s been an offensive line coach for a while,” Sellers said of Jeffers. “He worked with Chris Akporoghene. He’s been around the game and is very experienced. I know he’s been a big help to Jmarion.
“I know they’ve spent a lot of time together. He goes to church with him every Sunday morning. They’ve gotten close. That’s helped that relationship and speeding up the process of getting him ready for spring ball and transitioning into the summer.”
Jenkins-Gooch now has film and highlights from his spring practice at TKA on his Hudl profile, supplanting those of his linebacker/tight end days from earlier in his career. Still, watching him run pass patterns back in 2018 and reel in catches speaks to his ability and athleticism.
His newer films, however, show him manhandling his smaller opponents. He’ll have more chances to prove his worth this summer at college camps and scrimmages before heading into varsity play.
TKA will participate in the jamboree at Neyland Stadium on Aug. 16. The Lions open the season Aug. 23 at Seymour.
He’s also got plans to be on the TKA basketball team and has performed well in basketball team camps this summer. Sellers has watched Jenkins-Gooch play on the hardwood, too; he’s a load to handle.
“I grew up playing sports,” Jenkins-Gooch said. “I could work or play sports. I couldn’t just sit in the house all day.”
South Carolina turned out to be the first FBS school to offer, doing so on May 21. The feeling was hard to put into words, Jenkins-Gooch said.
Florida State came calling with a scholarship offer the next day. Tennessee offered May 23.
Lane Kiffin and Florida Atlantic extended their offer on May 28, as did Miami.
And Virginia Tech offered Jenkins-Gooch on May 29.
“It’s been pretty exciting so far. I enjoy talking to a lot of new people and a lot of new coaches,” Jenkins-Gooch said.
Jenkins-Gooch has already camped at Tennessee. He will visit Virginia Tech on Saturday, Sellers said. The Hokies are giving him a look at left tackle and possibly right tackle.
“And then they’ll watch do some defense, too,” said Sellers. “If a team wants to slim him down, he can play a 5-technique on defense. Or, they can move him inside and put him at a 3 (technique).
“But with his wingspan and what his body frame looks like — his range and the way his body moves — he fits what a Division I (offensive) tackle looks like.”
Jenkins-Gooch will also make trips to South Carolina and Kentucky this month.
He won’t turn 16 until Aug. 1, so Sellers said he and the staff are taking the recruiting process slow and steady with Jenkins-Gooch.
So don’t expect a decision anytime soon. Getting him adjusted to life now is paramount. The future can wait.
“That’s why I got into coaching, to impact a bunch of kids’ lives the way I was adopted and my parents did that for me,” said Selliers.
“In a lot of ways, us as a school and me and my coaching staff have adopted him and really gotten to know him and hang out with him with the coaches and their families. It’s been phenomenal for us, as well. It’s been a blessing altogether.”