From Bath to the Bayou

Alex Jenkins
DE Alex Jenkins joined the New Orleans Saints’ practice squad this summer

The New Orleans Saints have been in the country all week preparing for their game against the Miami Dolphins on Sunday.

Sunday’s encounter is the second of four NFL games to be played in London this year and while most of them will be getting acclimatised to their new surroundings, for one man it’s nice to be home.

24 year old Alex Jenkins has given up the home comforts of Somerset to pursue his dream of playing American Football in the NFL.

The Saints signed him up in the summer as part of the league’s International Pathway Programme. Rules mean that he can’t play for the first team, so we won’t see him in action at Wembley this weekend, but he’s back here practicing with his team mates.

“He was tall and athletic, and he walked into the gym and asked ‘if I want to get into American football how do I get better?’”

So how’s Bayou compared to Bath?

“It’s good,” said Jenkins. “It’s a lot different from Bath, it’s not as historical but it’s a nice place.”

“I don’t really get a lot of time to go out (because of football) but it’s nice.”

The fact Alex Jenkins has made it to an NFL team, which so few American youngsters achieve, comes as no surprise to his first head coach, Chris Powles from the Bristol Aztecs.

“Every offseason we run taster sessions for people who have never played the game before,” recalls Coach Powles.

“Alex came to one of those back in 2012.”

“He was tall and athletic, and he walked into the gym and asked ‘if I want to get into American football how do I get better?’”

From that moment all Alex wanted to do was reach a standard that would get him a scholarship at a university in the States and, ultimately, land a career in the NFL.

Alex achieved his college goal in 2013 and moved to the States to start his education at the University of Incarnate Word, a private school in San Antonio, Texas.

“He’s fit in very well, he’s got good size, I think he understands the game and now he’s got a chance to play it at our level so he’s been a great addition for our team.”

As a teenager he had dreamed of becoming a footballer, but at 6ft 6” he grew too big. Jenkins, whose cousin is the Celtic winger Scott Sinclair, therefore he set himself a new goal within the gridiron.

“He was always a hardworking boy,” his former science teacher at St Gregory’s School in Bath remembers.

“He was a real inspiration when he was at our school.”

“He was our deputy head boy, so he had leadership roles and ideas and opinions that he was never scared to share with his peers and his teachers.”

It certainly appears that whatever Alex Jenkins does he leaves an impression on people. The New Orleans Saints head coach, and Super Bowl winner, Sean Payton enthused about him this week, “He’s been outstanding.”

“His team mates respect him,” added Payton.

“He’s fit in very well, he’s got good size, I think he understands the game and now he’s got a chance to play it at our level so he’s been a great addition for our team.”

That high praise comes as no surprise to his coach at the Bristol Aztecs, “just based on the very first conversation (I had with him), and his physical stature, he’s got the measurements, he’s big enough and strong enough,” said Chris Powles.

“He’s one of the very handful of guys who have played in domestic European leagues and then go on to play NCAA (college) division one level football and then to go on and play with the pros.”

“I don’t know of anyone who’s done that and gone to the NFL,” added Coach Powles.

He might be going from strength-to-strength with one of the NFL’s most famous teams, but Alex still finds time to give back to the community in Bath and Bristol.

“I just think that sort of stuff is really important,” said Alex.

“It’s something I said when I was a kid, I would love if someone had done that for us.”

“Now that I’m in a position to do something like that I use every opportunity to help these kids and inspire them to let them know that you can do more than you think.”

“That’s why I make a point to see these guys in Bristol and St Gregory’s.”

The New Orleans Saints vs Miami Dolphins is live and exclusive on BBC Two this Sunday at 1:45pm. Kick-off is at 2:30pm.

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