Weatherford High School athletics is only too happy to be used, especially as a vehicle for sending students to the next level to pursue higher education and extend their sports career, sometimes to satisfy a dream. Such is the case for senior Tyler Jenkins, who recently inked a commitment to play football at Hardin-Simmons University.
“I have wanted to play college-level football since I was a kid,” Jenkins said. “It’s just a dream I have been chasing for a long time, and I knew I just needed to keep after the dream.
“And to achieve the life-long dream just gives me a feeling I really can’t describe.”
Jenkins, who played primarily at tight end for the Kangaroos, arrived at his decision to attend the Abilene-based college based on the candor of its head coach, who offered up his criteria for players who will see playing time.
“During my visit to HSU, I was impressed with how genuine the whole coaching staff is in their approach,” Jenkins said. “[Hardin-Simmons head football coach Jesse] Burleson was very up front about the absence of politics in the football program, and that the best player is going to be on the field.
“I appreciate that regardless of all other [external influences], if you work to be the best player then you will get to play.”
Tyler learned some valuable lessons during the recruiting process, and fortunately he already had many of the attributes the HSU staff was looking for in prospective team members.
“I didn’t know this at the time,” he said, “but they look at pretty much the same things that a Division I school would. First, they want to make sure they recruit [student-athletes] with good character, and then they make sure academics are acceptable. Only then do they look to your athletic ability.
“I had spoken with Coach Burleson, and so had Coach [Reid] Waller, about playing football for HSU, and he had seen some of my game films. Of course, we also sent him my transcript, so he knew I was a good student. Then I went out to Abilene for the visit.”
Jenkins had plenty of incentive to sell himself as a good prospect, as a student, as well as a worthy addition to the Hardin-Simmons football. He was duly impressed, and eager to be part of the campus and the success of the program, which has perpetuated a winning habit for more than 20 years.
“I am really looking forward to being in that environment, with the winning atmosphere and tradition HSU has,” Jenkins said of the Cowboys program. “It is kind of an attitude of ‘not if they are going to win a championship, but how many.’ They are the winningest college football program in the state of Texas since 1990.
“And I really like the location of the university. It’s not so far that you can’t come home on the weekend, if you want to, to do laundry or get a good, home-cooked meal.
“I visited East Texas Baptist, which was about three and a half hours away, but that wasn’t the only factor. I just felt more at home at Hardin-Simmons.”
Having achieved a long-sought dreams, the tall WHS senior is not without other goals as he prepares to head for HSU classes for the fall semester. Jenkins has study plans mapped out, as well.
“I am entering Hardin-Simmons as a Ministry major,” he said, “and I am thinking about a minor in criminal justice, or maybe pursue pre-med.”
The Hardin-Simmons coaches have also set some expectations for Tyler on the gridiron, in keeping with the pursuit of goals on the gridiron.
“The coaches talked about splitting me out wide and perhaps putting me into motion to become like an H-back, so I can help with blocking down on outside linebackers and defensive ends. But I could also expect to take some snaps at tight end for receiving duties, too. Kind of a hybrid H-back and tight end, I guess.”
Jenkins attributes his preparation for football life at the next level to the tutelage he has received at Weatherford. Not only has he garnered knowledge about football, but about a positive approach to life.
“Coach Waller is not only the best coach I have ever known, but he’s one of the best guys I have ever known,” Tyler said. “He’s just an awesome person. I’ve learned so much being taught under this system. And all of the other coaches have been great, as well.
“The level of competition I have experienced over the last three years will help me at HSU. I know I have played against a lot of Division I players already, and that gives me a good deal of confidence that I can go to Hardin-Simmons and compete for a starting job, even in my first year.”