The path of Demoris Jenkins’ football career is an old tale for a new age.
Jenkins, a 6-foot-5, 220-pounder, grew up just outside Charlotte in Huntersville, NC, with hopes of becoming a college basketball player and beyond. He dreamed of playing for state 4-A powerhouse North Mecklenburg and its heralded basketball coach Duane Lewis, who has directed the Vikings to two state titles and almost 500 victories.
The latter became reality for Jenkins as a sophomore. But Jenkins had an epiphany early in his junior year that changed the direction of his athletic career.
Realizing opportunities in football were more plentiful for him, Jenkins emerged as a major college prospect as an outside linebacker-defensive end. He drew scholarship offers from Appalachian State, Georgia State, Liberty, Middle Tennessee State and Ohio before choosing to become part of East Carolina’s football recruiting class of 2023 on June 30th.
“He was just excited about the opportunity that East Carolina was going to provide him for his future,” North Mecklenburg football coach Damon McKee said. “He’s one of those kids who is a first generation in his family to go to college and have this opportunity. He loved everything that comes with playing down in Greenville, so that’s what sold him and his family.”
Appalachian State was the first major school to offer Jenkins last April, and he made several unofficial visits to Boone, including one on June 22nd. The Pirates, who had established some connections with the North Mecklenburg staff during a state coaches’ clinic during the winter, discovered Jenkins when assistants visited the school. They liked him enough to offer a scholarship in early May. Jenkins came to Greenville for an official visit on June 23rd.
“It came down to Appalachian State and East Carolina,” McKee said. “Once he had the opportunity to go on an official visit to see the school, meet the people and meet the coaches in person, he knew where he wanted to go.”
But football wasn’t in the forefront of Jenkins’ mind when he arrived at North Mecklenburg as a freshman in the fall of 2019. Although he played football for the junior varsity that fall, he was focused on becoming part of the basketball program that would produce a 30-1 record and earn a share of the state 4-A championship during the 2019-20 season. The Vikings shared the title with Lumberton that season because the championship game was canceled due to COVID-19.
While performing for the basketball junior varsity, Jenkins got a close-up-and-personal look at future Division I players such as Georgia Tech guard Tristan Maxwell (son of former NBA guard Vernon Maxwell), Robert Morris guard Trayden Williams, Davidson/Robert Morris forward Chris Ford and East Tennessee State forward Jeremy Gregory, who were all part of that title squad.
Jenkins moved up to the varsity teams in both sports as a sophomore, and he was part of a basketball squad that reached the state semifinals. But with football season being moved to the spring due to the COVID-19 pandemic, he went straight from basketball to the gridiron with little preparation time.
“He was just a kid who loved to play sports,” McKee said. “He would never commit to football those two years because he was always a tall kid and believed that basketball was his sport.”
It’s a similar mindset that former in-state prospects such as Julius Peppers, Manny Lawson and Sage Surratt had early in their prep careers.
But that changed after the third game of Jenkins’ junior season, oddly enough in a game when he competed against his younger brother, A.J. Jenkins.
A.J. was a sophomore running back at Harding University when the two clashed in the third game of the 2021 season. North Mecklenburg pulled out a 27-14 win in the game, led by Demoris who had six tackles, a quarterback sack and four passes defended.
“Before that game he was like, ‘Coach, I’m going to go out there and shut my brother down,”’ McKee said. “His brother is a great player. But he decided, ‘I’m going to go out and show what I can do.’ He had an outstanding game. He was rushing the passer, he was knocking down passes, he was in the passing lanes and he was making sacks and tackles for losses.
“After that game we came to him and said, ‘Demoris, how many 6-4 or 6-5 power forwards do you see out there in college basketball or the NBA?’ He was like, ‘Not many.’ I said, ‘Point guards at 6-4 and 6-5. But you see a lot of guys out here who are 6-4 and 6-5 playing outside linebacker and defensive end. The sky is the limit if you commit (to football).’ From there he just took off and became the great pass rusher he’s going to develop into.”
College recruiters began to take notice and between April 9 and June 22 he received all six of his scholarship offers.
“It’s happened all of a sudden for him,” McKee said. “He now realizes football is his ticket. He’s bought in.”
McKee uses Jenkins as both an outside linebacker and defensive end at North Meck. He sees Jenkins evolving into a defensive end at ECU.
“I can see him getting up to about 245 pounds,” McKee said. “When the guy sticks his arms up, he has a seven-foot wingspan. He’s agile. In basketball, he gets alley oop passes and he can drop-step and dunk. Once he gets into a college program and his body starts to develop, the sky is the limit.”
Although it hasn’t been determined yet, Jenkins will be in position to graduate early from North Meck and enroll at ECU next January.
“This is how we know things have shifted in his mind,” McKee said. “He said if ECU wanted him to enroll early, he’ll enroll early. That wouldn’t have happened last year because he believed he was basketball first and football was second. Now he understands. He is committed to being a great football player.”