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Declarative defense: Jenkins, Albritton the vocal, hard-hitting leaders on defense

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Tarboro seniors and captains, from left, Jyron Albritton, Kendarius Jenkins, Keon Caudle and Melik Ward line up following the coin flip with Northern Nash on Friday, Aug. 30, 2018, at Northern Nash High School.

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BY SAMUEL EVERS
Sports Writer

Thursday, December 13, 2018

TARBORO — Defensive coordinator Andrew Harding had senior safety Kendarius Jenkins in his freshman history class.

It took him months to realize the future three-year starter and aspiring two-time state champion even played football.

He was quiet, recalled Harding during Thursday afternoon’s practice, and, as a member of the junior varsity team, he usually opted not to wear his Vikings jersey to school on game days.

“One time he did finally wear that jersey,” Harding said, “and I was like, you play JV football? He just looked at me and said, ‘Yes sir.’”

Later that season, when the Vikings’ varsity team was gearing up for a playoff run, Jenkins was called up to fill in as a scout team member. He impressed Harding so much that he wound up making the two-deep as a backup safety. The next season, the coach fought for the safety to make the varsity team, and to start.

Three years later, with one game left in his career, Jenkins is a captain at defensive back, who’s gone from a hard-hitting ball hawk safety early in his career to a hard-hitting ball hawk safety with some nuance; he leads the team with seven interceptions this season, something that didn’t seem likely early in his career.

“If you said KD would have seven interceptions as a senior and every one of them won’t be with him falling on the ground, I’d have laughed at you,” Harding said.

Jenkins also isn’t quiet anymore. He’s not allowed to be.

When last year’s defensive quarterback, Phillip Willoughby, graduated, Harding met with Jenkins during the offseason and decided it was time to put the onus of off-field encouragement and pre-snap checks (changes to the defense based on how the offense looks) on Jenkins.

Now Jenkins, along with fellow three-year starter and linebacker Jyron Albritton, whom Harding also puts trust in, are in charge of that realm. An offense will line up, and, in a matter of seconds, those two will decipher and adapt, vocalizing their thoughts to a defense that’s allowed 52 points in 14 games. 

“He’s got my back,” said Albritton, who’s played with Jenkins since recreation league football. “I know he’s behind me, that he’ll take care of me.”

The problem for Jenkins was never his football knowledge — because Jenkins can talk Xs and Os with the best of them — Harding said, it was getting him to share it in an on-field manner.

That hasn’t been a problem for him this year, and neither has his prep.

Jenkins, on East Surry’s two-quarterback system the Vikings will try and disable this Saturday at Carter-Finley Stadium: “They switch quarterbacks. They have a certain formation — trips right. They slot the tight end on the other side. It’s probably going to be a backside seam. I’ve got to catch up on that.”

And on SouthWest Edgecombe’s passing tendencies from a showdown earlier this year: “They kept doing slants to Keishon Porter. Like eight times. I was like, they’re probably going to do a slant and go right now. That’s when I caught the interception. I knew it. I was waiting for it.”

Like any good defensive leader and captain, Jenkins devours game film. On a typical Friday night, once the win has been secured and the running clock has run, the coaches will have sent film for the next team. He’ll be home, studying whether a lineman likes to lean forward or back, or what the quarterback likes to do before and during a play.

“Probably by 11 p.m. that night I’ll be studying,” he said. “After we play a team, that same night they send the film. I just start watching them, try to break them down myself. I do it for every team.”

And if he doesn’t understand something, Harding said, there will be ‘point-focused’ questions.

Over the last three years, the defensive backfield for the Vikings has been occupied by smart, athletic players who have made Harding’s life easier. Two years ago, it was Romello Denton-Pippin. Last year, it was Devonta Davis, who went to Louisburg College and has since picked up Division I offers.

It’s been no different this year with Jenkins.

Without him next year, there will be a void to fill.

“I’ll find out how good of a DB coach I really am once next season starts, because those three guys will all be gone,” Harding said. “Kendarius has been that solid rock sitting in the back of our defense now for three years. And people know about him.

“He don’t talk a whole lot, but he will light you up.”

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