This Sunday former Raiders wide receiver Greg Jenkins will become just the second player ever to be inducted into the Mississippi Bowl Hall of Fame. It was a game that essentially launched Jenkins on his path to the NFL. And just as he comes full circle on Sunday, he would like to see his pro career take the same path back to where it began -- as an Oakland Raider.
Jenkins began his college career as a preferred walk-on at Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College. Right away, as a freshman quarterback, he led his team to the first annual Mississippi Bowl where he was named the game's Offensive MVP. That performance had some universities take notice and following his sophomore season, he received several offers.
He initially signed with Division I Troy, but not long after he arrived, a coaching change happened and he was asked to switch to wide receiver. While he admits in hindsight that was sage advice, at the time he was set on playing quarterback and opted to transfer to a school that wanted him as a quarterback. This also meant that unless he wanted to sit out a year, he would have to transfer out of division one, which is when he opted to head to Alabama State - the same college Seahawks quarterback Tarvaris Jackson attended. Jackson's story convinced Jenkins that Alabama State was the place for him.
He spent the final two years of college at Alabama State, completing nearly 60 percent of his passes while throwing for 3,166 yards and scoring a combined 35 touchdowns -- 20 through the air and 15 on the ground.
Even still, Jenkins wasn't receiving the interest from the NFL in him as a quarterback. As he tells it, he was ready to head to play in the CFL. That was until he got a call from the NFLPA Collegiate bowl and fate would step in.
"God works in mysterious ways," said Jenkins. "A couple of receivers got hurt and going into that game [they said] ‘you can play receiver if you want to, I'm not pressuring you'. So, when a couple of guys got hurt, I went and told the receiver coaches ‘if y'all need some help, I'll come out there and help.'
"The whole first day I was playing receiver and in receiver and quarterback drills I would go back and forth. I had a couple different nicknames like ‘Slash 2.0' like Kordell Stewart."
In attendance at those practices as well as the game was Raiders General Manager Reggie McKenzie. And immediately following the draft ‘Slash 2.0' got the call to sign with the Raiders as an undrafted free agent.
Jenkins quickly showed natural catching abilities despite having just picked up the receiver position in the months prior to the draft. He also showed rare athleticism and willingness to do whatever it took to carve out a spot on the team. That meant trying his hand as a return man - something he hadn't done since his senior year in high school.
"After the first meeting in the rookie minicamp, coach Bobby April asked ‘Anybody else who's a kick or punt returner that's not on the list, meet with me after the meeting' and I was the only one that met with him. After that my name was on the list and that separated me and my catching abilities."
Those abilities landed on the team's practice squad. Late in his rookie season he was called up to the Raiders' roster, first as the primary punt returner, and then as kick returner over four of the final five games of the season.
In his very first game action as a pro, Jenkins recovered a fumble on a kick return and took it for a touchdown. It was to hopefully be the start of a long career with the Raiders. Those hopes were upended in the following preseason due to a string of injuries that would have him waived by the team and send a once promising young career into a tumble.
Immediately following last season the Raiders were ready to bring Jenkins back on a reserve/future contract, but his physical revealed a fracture in his foot that required surgery and offseason rehab. That was the last time he heard from the Raiders.
The Jaguars brought him for a look, and signed him. But yet another injury - this time a high ankle sprain - during the preseason would put him back on the shelf. After six weeks of rehab, he is healthy again and has since been keeping himself in shape, waiting for that call.
That wait can be excruciating. Even from the very beginning Jenkins has had to prove himself, so keeping himself ready is not an issue for him. But what he has fought through the past couple years has been a whole new lesson.
"Nothing is promised," he said. "You can be 100% one day and be the best on the field and injured the next day and everybody forgets about you. So you gotta take it one day at a time and work your craft."
Over the past few weeks, the Raiders have made the call to several different return men due to injuries to TJ Carrie and Taiwan Jones. The first couple of returners to sign didn't see the field. Then last week, they added Jeremy Ross to the roster, and he fumbled one of his kick returns.
Even Carrie and Jones haven't been ideal as returners this season. Carrie is far too valuable on defense to risk injury in the return game and Jones has had fumble issues of his own, including fumbling three times in one game this season. So, it isn't like the need hasn't been there for the Raiders.
For Jenkins, the desire to once again don Silver & Black -- along with the adoration of a fan base that he says to this day is "like family" -- is what keeps him working to return to the sport and to the organization he loves.
"Even today fans still tweet me like every Sunday," he said. "When I'm feeling down, that's more fuel for me to do what I do. That's the best fan base in the world."
"I feel like Oakland is home to me. They accepted me as family and they say ‘Once a Raider, always a Raider' so for somebody to say that, I take them on their word. I'm healthy, you know what I bring to the table, I'm ready to come home."