Backyard football, along with a season of flag football as a fifth-grader, provided the extent of Jarrett Jenkins’ experience in the sport before he got to Dacula High School.

Baseball was his first love — he is committed to Georgia Southern in that sport — but he wanted to at least give football a shot. He entered the first practice with no expectations, only a willingness to compete and to play in pads and a helmet for the first time.

“I always talked about wanting to play football,” the Dacula senior said this week. “But when I was in middle school I wasn’t very big, so I didn’t really play. My freshman year I decided to give it a try.”

A brief look at slot receiver didn’t last long that season. He quickly moved to quarterback, where he became the freshman team’s starter.

“It’s a pretty cool story,” said Dacula head coach Clint Jenkins, who isn’t related to his quarterback, though he gets the question regularly. “He was a lot of fun to watch as a ninth-grader. I heard him say I just wanted to try and play and see how I would do. He said he really wasn’t expecting a whole lot. He ended up being the quarterback on the freshman team. It didn’t take long to see that he could really run and throw and make good decisions. He was a lot of fun to watch that ninth grade year. We knew he had a lot of potential.”

As a sophomore, duty on the varsity was scarce with an experienced starting quarterback in Shayne Buckingham, who now plays at Army. But in that limited duty, Jenkins showed his coaches flashes of his talent.

“We put him in a game when Coach (Tommy) Jones was still (head coach), and he came in for Buckingham, Shayne cramped up end of the Central Gwinnett game, and Jarrett did the same thing,” Clint Jenkins said. “He was really exciting to watch. He got a drive together. We knew when it was his turn, he was going to be a lot of fun. And he lived up to it last year.”

The first-year varsity starter was one of Gwinnett County’s top dual-threat quarterbacks last season, guiding Dacula to the Class AAAAAA state semifinals, which matched the deepest playoff run in school history. He was relied on more heavily as the season wore on, including a nice effort in the rain in a 56-21 win over Valdosta in the quarterfinals. He was 9-for-17 passing for 161 yards and two touchdowns — both in the first quarter for a 13-0 lead — and also rushed for 69 yards and another score.

He finished his junior season as one of the county’s most prolific passers, completing 150 of 261 passes (57.5 percent) for 2,080 yards and 19 TDs.

“As the season went on and we went deeper in the playoffs, we leaned more on him to be a leader on that side of the ball,” said Clint Jenkins, who credited offensive coordinator Ken Burnette for his work developing Jarrett as a quarterback. “He was a first-time starter (going into the season) and you really didn’t know what you were going to get. You knew he had a lot of potential, but you really didn’t know how he would react in games. As the year went on more, we saw he was a leader of our offense.”

Jenkins developed his football skills while splitting time with his primary sport, baseball. The middle infielder and pitcher, committed to Georgia Southern since last September, had 16 RBIs and 11 stolen bases this past spring for Dacula’s state playoff baseball team. He also had a 2.89 ERA as a pitcher, striking out 41 in 54 1/3 innings.

He has played for Team Elite since he was in the under-14 division, and has continued to balance baseball with his football responsibilities. Summer is the busiest time in that timeshare arrangement.

“Obviously, we try to get our schedule out as quick as possible for all the kids, our basketball kids, baseball kids, whatever,” Clint Jenkins said. “Jarrett does a great job of communicating with us ahead of time so we kind of know. He knows, ‘Jarrett this is a padded camp, we need you here. Or, ‘This is 7-on-7, we need you here.’ Jarrett does a really good job of working out a really busy schedule.”

Though baseball is his future at the next level, giving up football was never an option.

“I know a lot of my friends, their football coach pushes them to just play football and not worry about baseball,” Jenkins said. “Coach Jenkins knows baseball’s been my No. 1 sport. He just works around things. He knows I’ll be at the big things, the padded camps, the 7-on-7s. I’m just glad they don’t pressure me. … I do have people telling me, ‘Why don’t you just play baseball?’ But there’s nothing like the Friday night lights.”

If not for baseball, football would be an option at the college level.

“No doubt about it (he could play in college),” Clint Jenkins said. “I’ve had plenty of college coaches come in here and they really like him. He could definitely play football at the next level. Obviously, he’s got Georgia Southern in baseball and he’s really excited about that and we’re excited for him. I told him to just enjoy this year playing football. It’s fun. He’s a good student, a good kid. You like to see good things happen for people like that.”

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Sports editor for the Gwinnett Daily Post. A Gwinnett native documenting Gwinnett County sports with the GDP since 1997.