Coming off a junior season where he rushed for over 850 yards and 14 touchdowns, it may seem odd for Verrado to be “starting over” with running back Ja’Tai Jenkins this year. New Vipers’ head coach Tom Ward is hoping less becomes more this fall for one of the most dynamic players in the state.
“Last year we felt he was dancing too much,” Ward recently said to Sports360AZ.com. “Not because what he was doing but the way we were trying to block things. We just weren’t very good up front.”
With a new year, comes new optimism for Jenkins and Verrado, who dropped to a 7-4 season after going 19-4 the previous two seasons. After being used at running back, wide receiver, kick/punt returner and even taking snaps in the ‘wildcat formation’ at times, the 5-foot-10, 190-pound athlete is ready to focus on less roles and more production this fall.
“Get me the ball and let me do my thing,” the well-built Jenkins said to Sports360AZ.com when asked what he looking forward to most working primarily at running back. “I was a wide receiver my whole life. Running back is something I had to pick up. Going to different types of camps over the summer and the spring helped me become a better running back.”
— Coach J (@S_E_Training) May 21, 2017
He also has closely watched some of Arizona’s top prep backs like Chandler High’s T.J. Green and Centennial star Zidane Thomas. Instead of modeling his game after college or NFL stars, he’s focused more on learning from his peers, a unique approach for a high school athlete.
“I want to learn from people in my range, people that are young,” he explained. “That helps me a lot because if I see him ballin’ up in high school, I want to be in high school ballin’ up just like him.”
Good things come to those who wait 👏🏾
— ACE♠️ (@JataiJ) March 29, 2017
In short, Jenkins is living in the present, not the future.
It’s a similar approach that he takes away from Verrado, giving back and mentoring others in the game he loves.
“I like helping kids,” Jenkins said. “I train some local neighborhood kids at the park where I learned how to play football. It’s amazing. It gives me a sense of pride. Every time I go to sleep I’m just happy that I can help some people out.”
It’s a positive impact which Jenkins, who dad is an assistant coach under Ward, takes on and off the field with the Vipers.
“You can talk all you want but it’s your walk that matters,” Ward said. “His teachers like him and he does a great job in the classroom so what more can you ask? He handles that expectation really well.”