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Kris Jenkins became the complementary All-American

The senior leaves a legacy of always putting the team first like few before him have.

2023 Big Ten Championship - Iowa v Michigan Photo by Michael Hickey/Getty Images

The Michigan Wolverines have had several players epitomize the team-first mentality over the last three years, but perhaps none more so than inimitable defensive tackle Kris Jenkins. Jenkins — the son of the former two-time NFL All-Pro of the same name — came to the Wolverines as an undersized, unheralded three-star recruit with a larger-than-life personality, and left as a well-rounded, All-American who could sneak into the first round of the 2024 NFL Draft.

During his time in Ann Arbor, Jenkins transformed into a physical specimen worthy of his nickname, “The Mutant.” Through a voracious commitment to self-improvement, Jenkins developed into a three-down player who could stuff the run as well as pass rush, and blossomed into one of the most assignment-sound football players in the country.

To borrow a term from professional wrestling, you will never see Jenkins “going into business for himself,” it is always team-first. If the play calls for Jenkins to draw a double team, done. If the play demands Jenkins to crash into the offensive tackle to free up the edge on a twist, done. If “The Mutant” needs to make a play himself, DONE. On every snap, Jenkins displayed a commitment to the bigger picture by focusing on the smallest of details.

This selfless commitment is why Kris Jenkins leaves Michigan as perhaps the quietest All-American (second team by the AFCA, FWAA; third team by the AP, the Athletic, CBS Sports) in the history of the program, and maybe the only Michigan All-American to never be the outright best at his given position.

In 2021, when Jenkins first regularly cracked the rotation, he played alongside Mazi Smith, Christopher Hinton, and Donovan Jeter. Strictly a rotational player, Jenkins tallied 22 tackles and 0.5 tackles-for loss.

This season, Jenkins was again next to Graham — who many have already deemed the best defensive tackle talent in the history of the program — and the athletic phenomenon that is the 6-foot-3, 340-pound Kenneth Grant. Despite a five-player defensive tackle rotation, Jenkins still posted 37 tackles, 4.5 tackles-for-loss, 2.5 sacks, and one interception, with the latter three were career-highs.

However, Jenkins is a player who is even rarer than those who just reached All-American status. Jenkins is a self-sacrificing Swiss Army Knife who only complements those around him; the ultimate catalyst who only impacts the team positively. A big reason the players around Jenkins have enjoyed high levels of success is because of Jenkins and his commitment to his responsibilities. It is not uncommon for players to say they share a team-first mentality, but Jenkins personified it in a way like few ever have.

When speaking to Draft Network before the Rose Bowl, it is easy to see why Jenkins embraced this role when he discussed what playing for Michigan means to him.

“It means everything to me,” Jenkins said. “My journey through this building, how many great people I’ve seen come and go, how many brothers I’ve gained on this team, the father figures on the coaching staff. These are the things I’ll never forget. Everybody has helped develop me from a boy to a man. All the love I get from this program, the fans, every single person I see on a daily basis, we all bleed maize and blue. It means the world to me.“

“I wouldn’t be happier anywhere else. This is my home. It’s always going to be my home. I’m honored. I’ll always do whatever I can do to make the people that have worn the winged helmet proud.”

Kris Jenkins, the complementary All-American, leaves his home as a team captain, national champion, and the ultimate winning player. For four years, Jenkins curated a legacy that every Michigan player should emulate, but few, if any, will be able to replicate. A legacy defined by lifting up those around him for a shared singular purpose. A lift that could only be done with the strength of a mutant.