Janoris Jenkins's path to college football glory — like a surprising number of players before him — stretches through the reed-clogged swampland that emerges from Lake Okeechobee.
It's a path littered with the corpses of hundreds of rabbits, sacrificed to the gods of speed, agility, and endurance. For decades, young men in these parts have hunted rabbits, which townsfolk buy for three bucks a pop to make stew.
"We really don't have nothin' to do in Pahokee," muses Jenkins, now a star freshman cornerback at the University of Florida. "So we play football, and we chase rabbits."
For Pahokee, a speck of 6,000 on the western fringe of Palm Beach County, that combination has been the magic formula for decades of high school football ascendancy and the highest per capita production of football talent on Earth. Last year, it was Jenkins leading the Pahokee Blue Devils to an undefeated senior season and a state title, but before him, it was Anquan Boldin (now with the Arizona Cardinals) ripping passes out of the Friday-night glare, and Fred Taylor (now with the Jacksonville Jaguars) juking his way into the history books. Pahokee High School and nearby rival Glades Central have produced an eye-popping 48 NFL players.
"Getting to see guys like Anquan and Fred Taylor growing up, you just know it's a great program that can take you places," Jenkins says. "You believe."
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Jenkins moves one step closer to his dreams this week, as his Gators head into Dolphin Stadium for a title game matchup against the Oklahoma Sooners. As the only freshman starting on a smothering defensive unit, Jenkins has shouldered a heavy load early in his career.
But something about life in Pahokee seems to mold football players for these moments. Is it those famed early mornings in the marsh, churning through the swamp water with a bounding rabbit in sight?
"I don't know about that," Jenkins laughs. "I wasn't really allowed to hunt a lot because my parents thought it was dangerous."
He thinks for a moment and then adds, "But yeah, maybe it does translate to chasing a wide receiver out there."