Mike Jenkins has played precisely six seconds of football for Brigham Young University, yet he is one of the team's most popular players. Everywhere he goes he draws a crowd. Kids, teenagers, grownups - perfect strangers - walk right up to him to stare, to listen, to behold, to touch, to, uh, gawk.
"I'm a spectacle, and I know it," says Jenkins.When you're 6-foot-8, and weigh anywhere from 350 to 500 pounds, the world is a stage.
In airports, on the BYU campus, in Disneyland, the reaction is the same. People marvel. Strangers, strangely moved, reach out to touch him.
Family and friends walk through crowds behind Jenkins just to watch the heads turn and to hear the comments. During BYU's meet-the-team day last month, fans pressed in around Jenkins as if he were Ty Detmer, times two.
"I do understand people want to see me," says Jenkins. "Some of them are really amazed I can speak. They can't believe I can form words, or that I have motor skills. They're surprised I'm nice. It's because I'm enormous. Every day people come up to me and say, You're the biggest guy I've ever seen in my life. People are always touching me. I guess to see if I'm real. Or maybe they want to see what I feel like. People are dumbfounded. It's confusion and amazement."
The questions are non-stop and the same. How big were you at birth? (Seven pounds.) Are your parents big? (Perfectly average.) How much do you weigh?
At the moment Jenkins is a mere 345 pounds, but that's only because of football practice and daily 8 a.m. runs, followed by trips to the steam room. He has dropped about 200 pounds in the last two years - or the equivalent of one medium-sized linebacker - which means he no longer has to weigh in at the city dump.
Even by football's standards, Jenkins is big, and so he's a curiosity. He endures the attention with infinite patience, amusement and self-deprecating humor. To wit: "I was the biggest Division 1 player in the country last year," he says. "I'm not sure about this year. Now I'm just a regular fat guy." Or, "I see the numbers come off the scale, but I can't see any difference, except in my face. I'm a box head now instead of a nice round head." He loves the confusion he causes when he strolls around campus with Shawn Bradley, the 7-foot-6 basketball player.
Despite his size, or perhaps because of it, Jenkins is not an intimidating man. It is a curiosity of our society that giants rarely are bullies; quite to the contrary. So it is with Jenkins, which makes him all the more approachable for the curious.
"Little kids are attracted to me because of my size, and I'm not an intimidating person off the field," says Jenkins. "People see that I'm nice, so they come up to me. To be as big as I am, I have to be more civilized off the field than the normal person. No matter what I do, I'm the big guy."
The transition to football has helped. The gridiron is the one place a big man can act like everyone else and let off a little steam.
But to the beginning. Jenkins was a mere 325-pounder when he graduated from Castro Valley (Calif.) High. Then he went to work for Dominoes Pizza. "A great career move," says Jenkins. "I managed the place, so it was pig city. I was making pizza with my right hand and eating it with my left." His weight soared to 525 pounds.
Scales don't even register that high. Jenkins weighed in when he hauled trash from his father's business to the city dump. First, the truck was weighed with Jenkins in it, then without. He subtracted the difference to calculate his weight.
Jenkins eventually enrolled at Chabot College to play football. For obvious reasons, he had always been urged to try the sport by everyone except his father, who required a 3.0 grade point average to play football. Jenkins didn't get the grades, nor did he play prep football (he played soccer, badminton and golf instead), but he learned quickly at Chabot. He earned junior college All-American honors and a scholarship at BYU.
Jenkins reported to Provo last year weighing 427 pounds - a size so big that he required specially ordered pads and uniform. He was too big, said BYU coaches. Jenkins cut his weight to 380 last fall, but redshirted the season. His coaches told him to report to training camp at 340 if he wanted to play. Jenkins reported at 385, and so far his only playing time has been the final six seconds of the UTEP rout.
Through a series of tests, doctors have determined that Jenkins' body processes food slower than most people's - "For me to lose one pound, you'd lose five," he says. His body believes that it is constantly on the brink of famine, so it stores fat readily. "In the morning it is imperative that I eat something - a slice of bread - before I do anything," explains Jenkins. "That way my body won't think we're in a famine. It can go ahead and burn food; it doesn't have to store fat."
Looking ahead, Jenkins hopes for more weight loss and more playing time. But looking farther, he hopes for more. "My destination is 305," he says. "If I don't get it down now, after football I'll be in big trouble."