Breathing a sigh of relief

CLEMSON – Following practice late last week, Martin Jenkins was loose. Relieved.

Clemson's junior cornerback spoke amiably with reporters, a sure sign he was comfortable.

For the first time in nearly two years, Jenkins is fully healthy and competing for a starting role, and fully prepared for next week's season-opening home showdown against No.5 Georgia. You might have thought Jenkins was healthy following groin surgery that forced last fall's redshirt season.

Reality is this: Jenkins says he finally felt truly healthy, well, about two weeks ago. Doctors finally found the right medication to treat a hereditary form of arthritis which had afflicted both Jenkins and his father, and Jenkins couldn't be more excited about the results.

"I've been feeling better," he said. "I'm ready to compete, ready to play in a game. The last game I played was against West Virginia, so I'm definitely ready to get out there."

Jenkins had a solid sophomore season in 2011, playing 304 snaps and starting three of the final four games with 27 tackles and six pass breakups. He hoped to battle for a starting role last fall, but never quite felt healthy while battling a lingering groin injury. His season ended in August, when he underwent surgery intended to correct the problem.

By February, he felt 100 percent during "All-In" drills, Clemson's winter conditioning. But in March, he began to experience arthritis-like pain radiating from his hip.

"(I said), ‘I'm back, let's go, let's train every day, take advantage, get back to what we need,'" he said. "And I get hit with arthritis and I can't really move, to be honest."

Doctors searched for a diagnosis. By May, they found one: ankylosing spondylitis. In layman's terms, AS is a chronic, inflammatory arthritis-like disease which affects the pelvis and spine area. It can eventually cause complete spinal fusion.

As it turned out, a doctor diagnosed Jenkins and his father with AS at the same time.

"It's a hereditary thing, but I didn't know that until I got it," Jenkins said. "I told (my dad), he was like, ‘Well, that's what ended (my career), but back then the technology wasn't what it was today, so they didn't know.'"

AS is not curable, but Jenkins immediately began medication to treat the symptoms, telling doctors to "give me the strongest thing you've got."

"I started a medication and it did something but it didn't do a lot, so that was kind of frustrating," he said. "Everyone's body's different. (It was), ‘Try this one, then try this one.'"

It wasn't an easy process, by any means.

"It was definitely very frustrating," he said. " I'm in my dream position. Since I was a little kid, I dreamed about it. Even since ninth grade I dreamed about playing for Clemson. Being in college ball. Physically I know I have what it takes, so when you're not able to go out there and perform the way you know you can perform, something hinders you that's outside your control, it's frustrating."

That said, Jenkins centered his efforts around what he could control – himself.

"It was just having faith and believing," he said. "Some things are out of my control so I was just trying to focus on what I can control – rehab. It gave me time to focus on my studies. Ready to get back out there."

Doctors tried multiple medications and, "even in the summertime, I was praying and crossing my fingers that we could find the right thing," he said.

Earlier this month, they finally got the right medication.

"It definitely helps me," Jenkins said. "Before I had a lot to worry about. Not just plays, not just school, but add in the injury and trying to do treatment and getting that right. Now that it's on the sideburner, out of the way, it feels better. I can focus on my plays and trying to get my technique back to where it's really good at all points, getting my speed back and getting ready to play ball."

Now, Jenkins is competing for a starting role. Just as importantly, he's learned an important lesson: that football is fleeting. Take advantage while you can.

"You don't know anything about the future, so I try and take advantage of all the opportunities thrown my way," he said. "Football is not everything. One day I'll have to put the pads down – hopefully that could be a great job. I want to go into entrepreneurship and the NFL could help with that.

"I'm not too worried about it. I'm taking it day by day, trying to control what I can."

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