On a rainy Friday morning, Eagles safety Malcolm Jenkins walked across the football field of Piscataway High School. This field where he won three state football championships was filled with young athletes, lined up for a trial run of the 40-yard dash.
This day was one of his favorite parts of the offseason: the Next Level Football Camp, a program designed to help young athletes in his hometown.
“This is something I never got growing up,” Jenkins said. “It’s nostalgic for me, coming back here year to year. It’s pretty special.”
Since he first started the program in 2012, Jenkins insisted that his camp should be free for all participants. Any athlete from age 7 to 17 is welcome on the field. Support from local businesses, the NFL Players Association and the Eagles allows Jenkins to return to his high school field for two days each year to give back to the community where he fell in love with the game.
Growing up in Piscataway, Jenkins never had the chance to attend the pro camps that many young athletes use to refine their game. He traveled to one — a camp at the University of Pennsylvania run by NFL fullback Charles Way — over the course of his young football career.
Three years into his NFL career, Jenkins decided to bring that experience back to his hometown. His camp quickly became a major calendar item in the area, headlined by Super Bowl champions and NFL stars such as Larry Fitzgerald, who volunteered their time to teach and talk with the athletes.
The camp spanned two days, with the first designated for high school athletes and the second for younger players. Mornings were spent on combine tests such as the 40-yard dash and the short shuttles. After a lunch break, the athletes hear from Jenkins and the other athletes, who share their stories of making the NFL. The afternoon is then spent split into position skills training.
There’s only so much that he can teach in a day. But for Jenkins, the camp is less about skills and more about inspiration.
“They see where we are right now, but they don’t really get a chance to know how we got there,” Jenkins said. “This is our opportunity to show them that we’ve had to put in work to get there. It’s not like we just arrived. And when you do that, a lot of these kids start to see a way for themselves to have success.”
Each year, he tells participants his story — how he received a single scholarship offer in high school before attending a camp at Ohio State, where he outhustled four-star competition and earned an offer on the spot. He reminds them that his work ethic is what forged his Division I scholarship and his place in the Eagles secondary.
“I can tell kids, this is literally the dirt that I worked on and built myself on to get to where I am now,” Jenkins said. “The dirt is still here. It’s still open for whoever wants to go that extra mile.”