With the Magic Kingdom at Walt Disney World being in Orlando, perhaps Jrayen Jenkins and his family couldn’t have picked a better place to vacation two years ago.
The Jenkins traveled to Orlando the week after Jrayen suffered a growth plate fracture in his right leg during the final day of Ozark’s summer camp workouts.
Weighing heavily on their minds was Jrayen’s health. A doctor had recommended to them surgery that would leave him with a limp the rest of his life.
“I would have kept on growing and that would have messed the plate up, so (doctors) would have had to go in every couple months and realign it. They would have had to re-open (the growth plate) back up and move the rod back up because it would have been right on my growth plate,” Jenkins said. “I would have always had a limp, so it wouldn't have been viable for football. It’s hard to do anything with a limp.
“I was like, 'I'm not getting the surgery,” he added.
Jenkins’ somewhat defiant decision, however emotionally-filled it might have been at the time, will prove to be one of the best choices he’ll ever make.
The senior offensive lineman made his return to the gridiron last season, made his first varsity start last week at Carl Junction and will take the field tonight for Ozark’s home-opener versus Republic.
He’s savoring every moment playing alongside teammates the likes of Carson Fickbohm, Logan Smith, Landon Baldwin, Jack Bowers and Johnny Williams who have all been virtually lifelong friends.
“It’s good to be back out here fighting with them all,” Jenkins said.
Jenkins’ first varsity start could have come as early as his sophomore season. A year earlier, he was one of the few freshmen former Ozark coach Chad Depee promoted to the varsity at the conclusion the freshman team’s season.
Depee had talked of Jenkins’ potential during summer workouts two years ago.
Adversity hit Jenkins without any warning whatsoever.
“We were doing a normal run in practice when (former Tigers offensive lineman) P.J. Virden pushed somebody and they rolled right on my right ankle area,” Jenkins said. “I had never had never broken a bone in my life before. I stood up and coach (Kramer) Patterson said, ’It's just a sprain, get up and walk.' But I couldn't walk. A trainer came over and it was swollen as it could be.”
Upon his visit to a doctor, Jenkins was delivered his grim diagnosis and advised to go under the knife. The only other option was to take every precaution to limit the mobility of the leg and see how the growth plate would heal on its own.
“(The doctor) said the only way we wouldn't be able to do (surgery) is to keep (the leg) wrapped up in a boot and take great care of it,” Jenkins said. “Our family vacation was already planned, so we ended up going to Orlando. I was on a little scooter with my knee up in the air the whole time.
“I don't know if it was a miracle or what it was, but (the growth plate) was healing fine,” he added. “There was no need for a surgery by my second appointment. It all healed up good.”
Jenkins’ growth plates have since been busy. He was 6-foot-0 as a sophomore and now stands 6-4.
He fought through rehab to regain strength in his leg and worked tirelessly while not being 100 percent and seeing limited playing time last season.
“Junior year I was starting back at square one,” Jenkins said. “I still had pain from the break. I was struggling with it. I lost a lot of weight and strength. This past off-season, I worked on speed conditioning and strength training. I feel a lot faster, stronger and more confident. It's a lot easier to move people. I feel more confident all-around.”
Jenkins is back in the fold, even though this pre-season wasn’t exactly entirely kind to him, either.
Following an intra-squad scrimmage a few weeks ago, he was on his way to Coyote’s Nixa Grille for dinner with his fellow seniors when he was involved in a two-vehicle collision along West Jackson Street.
It brought to mind former Ozark football players Tylr Bolin and Jake Kronebusch also being involved in car wrecks during football season.
“Sadly, I had to skip out on (the team dinner),” Jenkins said. “(My) truck was totaled. But (air) bags deployed, everyone was fine. No injuries.”