You may think Kris Jenkins has a score to settle tonight -- even if it is a preseason game -- since he's playing against the team that shipped him out of the Queen City.
But the beefy nose tackle is genuinely eager to hit the field at Bank of America Stadium later today, as I detailed in this story in today's Newsday. His face was loaded with smiles all throughout our nearly 10-minute sitdown conversation regarding his first return to the place where he spent his initial seven seasons.
"Oooh, honestly it feels good," Jenkins said. "I mean, I wish I could say a whole bunch of stuff, 'Like, you know what? I don’t like ... blah.' But I can’t, you have to understand that when I was there, I got to do a lot of growing. They gave me that opportunity to come into the league and they gave me a better opportunity to become a man. I know it might not have happened along the course that they wanted it to happen, but it still happened and I have to be appreciative of that.
"And honestly, I have no animosity toward any of the guys out there, have all of the respect in the word for the organization and the coaches. It was just one of those situations where something happens in business, where you get to a point where you just don't see eye-to-eye with the organization. And it was OK. When we parted, it wasn't bad blood."
In fact, Jenkins looks back on the 2008 trade to the Jets as a blessing in disguise. He had a roller-coaster career in Charlotte, making the Pro Bowl three times. But he also sparred with the coaches about his weight, among other things, and had season-ending injuries in 2004 and '05.
Both sides had enough of each other, leading to Jenkins getting shipped to New York.
"I felt like they did me a favor," he said, "because at that time, John Fox realized that I wasn't getting any better at that point and he allowed me to come out here, and the change of scenery did all the better for me. And now I get to be the man that I am today, being a husband, a father now. A lot of that has to do with what I learned when I was there."
He also made quite a few friends among his Carolina teammates, some of whom he planned on spending some quality time with while he's in town. That list included Brentson Buckner, Al Wallace, and T.J. Washington.
Jenkins is also ready to show a little love to a few former teammates who still play for the Panthers: Steve Smith and D'Angelo Williams. Smith and Jenkins came into the league together in 2001, and Jenkins took Williams under his wing when the speedy running back was initially brought on board in 2006.
"I always do look forward to seeing Steve Smith," Jenkins said. "We had that up-and-down type of relationship, but it’s always good to see him. I’ve always respected the type of player that he is, and the way he goes out there. He puts it all on the line. Steve plays with his heart. Always have and will be a fan of his."
Of course, Jenkins is mindful tonight's tilt is only a preseason contest and he'll probably on the field for just a quarter of action -- if that. But still ...
"I feel like it’s going to be an honor to be able to compete against them, and you know I love to compete," Jenkins said. "So I'm not going out there to lay it down for them. I’m going out there to show them what a man I am now, and I hope they appreciate and respect that." Getting this shot tonight to go up against his old team in familiar surroundings is just the latest thing that has Jenkins truly believing he's in the midst of a special run.
Getting this shot tonight to go up against his old team in familiar surroundings is just the latest thing that has Jenkins truly believing he's in the midst of a special run.
"With a lot of these things that have been happening, I’ve just really been feeling like this is that year for me as a person," Jenkins said. "It’s not about them. You’ve got to understand, it’s about me. The thing is, I can’t worry about them. I’ve got to take care of myself."