WILLISTON — Jarius Jenkins is the latest in a line of running backs at Williston-Elko High School that has established a tradition of elite ball carriers.

Jenkins, a sophomore, is following in the well-worn footsteps of Kendric Salley, Dexter Staley and Josh Epps among others. He’s the main weapon in the Blue Devils’ offense and the player other teams zero in on when making gameplans.

But just like his predecessors, that usually isn’t enough to stop the prolific running back from gaining huge chunks of yards in a hurry. Or to keep him from leading Williston-Elko to lots of wins.

And just like so many of the big-time backs that came before Jenkins, he has to do most of his damage in one half. He can run wild and help build a massive lead and be reduced to the role of spectator in the second half in a sporting move by his coaches that also can help protect Jenkins from sustaining injuries.

That’s what happened last Friday. Jenkins had 118 yards and three touchdowns on nine carries in only the first half of a 48-7 shellacking of Fox Creek.

Because of Jenkins’ outstanding performance, he has been selected as the Aiken Standard Player of the Week for Week Five.

“It starts off with the linemen, without them backs can’t do anything,” a gregarious Jenkins said Monday as his team began preparations for Friday’s key Region 4-A battle against Hunter-Kinard-Tyler. “I just do what I’ve done in the past, and it feels great. Coach (Dwayne) Garrick tells me to get as many yards as I can.”

Garrick said that Jenkins’ success is no fluke or stroke of luck. It’s hard earned.

“He’s very mature, physically and mentally,” Garrick said. “He can bench over 300 pounds. He can squat over 400 pounds, and he’s worked hard to get that. He’s also got a good line in front of him, so he’s blessed with that, but he finishes well. He gets a lot of help from his line, but he’ll run over you if he needs to.”

That aggressive approach has helped Jenkins rack up impressive numbers. Seven games into the season, many of which he’s only played a half, Jenkins has amassed 866 yards and 17 rushing touchdowns on 125 carries. That’s an average of slightly less than 7 yards per carry, an outrageously high number for a feature back who logs all the important minutes this deep into the season.

“I think he’ll be a 1,500-yard back, if not 2,000,” said Garrick, who added that if Jenkins remains healthy through four years on the varsity team, he could threaten significant South Carolina records. “He reminds me a lot of Kendric Salley, but he might even have better burst than Kendric.”

That’s high praise considering what Salley accomplished at Williston-Elko. Over the course of his junior and senior seasons – the latter being abbreviated by a torn ACL – Salley rushed for more than 3,300 yards and 60 touchdowns.

Salley also was a big-time winner. He won a state title as a sophomore, returned to the title game the next season and advanced to the state semifinals last year in his injury-shortened senior campaign. All of that was good enough to earn him a scholarship to the University of South Carolina, where he’s redshirting this season as he continues to rehabilitate his knee.

After running for more than 1,400 yards and 20 touchdowns as a freshman splitting carries with Salley last season, Jenkins is eager to match – if not exceed his accomplishments. That includes a college scholarship.

“I want to get 40 touchdowns and over 2,000 yards, but for the team – not just my goal – I want to make it to the state championship game and win,” Jenkins said. “Being part of a tradition makes me feel great. Being behind Kendric, who went to USC, inspired me to do what he did.”

Jenkins said he hasn’t had much contact from colleges so far, but expects that things will pick up at the end of this school year. Although his stats might not look as gaudy to college recruiters because he’s only playing a half of football in several games, it could pay off for whichever team lands Jenkins in the long run.

As the feature back, Jenkins takes a lot of hits. His physical style of running between the tackles doesn’t spare him from absorbing any punishment. And as one of the best athletes on Class A team, Jenkins is asked to play both ways, adding to the hit total. Already this season, he’s battled a rib injury and a hyper-extended thumb on his left hand, neither of which has caused him to miss any significant playing time.

“My mentality is just push it off and keep going. I don’t let it bother me,” Jenkins said of his ailments, which are reduced because of limited playing time in big wins that might prevent him from breaking some records, but could prepare him to be an immediate star at the next level. “When I’m out there, it feels like I’m playing with no injury.”

Jenkins gets extra motivation and protection from two teammates in particular. He’s fortunate enough to have the opportunity to play varsity football with two older brothers – Juan’Yee and Jahmaya Jenkins. Both are seniors, with Jahmaya serving as an offensive lineman and Juan’Yee seeing time as a tight end, both helping clear the path for Jarius.

“It feels great to know I’m safe with my brothers blocking for me,” Jarius said. “I also get to play defense with both of them, that’s special.”

Garrick said the brothers look out for each other, but are also quick to point out when one makes a mistake. He thinks the sibling rivalry and mutual love of football motivates all three to perform at high levels.

“They take care of (Jarius). It’s a positive,” Garrick said of the brothers, but he could be speaking for Jarius’ impact for the Blue Devils, which has them pointed toward another region title and deep playoff run.

Noah Feit is the Sports Editor for the Aiken Standard and has been a professional journalist for more than a dozen years after graduating from Syracuse University.

Aiken Standard Player of the Week Winners

Week ZeroReggie Preston, QB Ridge Spring-Monetta

Week OneMalcolm Stroman, QB Wagener-Salley

Week TwoJauveer Hammond, QB Strom Thurmond

Week ThreeShaquez Wright, RB Silver Bluff

Week FourNakeem Spann, RB Aiken

Week FiveDre Carr, RB Midland Valley

Week SixJarius Jenkins, RB Williston-Elko