Alex Jenkins: 'I dreamed of the Premier League, now I want a Super Bowl'

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From a supermarket to the Super Bowl?

Alex Jenkins once had dreams of making it in the Premier League. Now he is preparing to take the next step from soccer hopeful to NFL star.

Jenkins, from Bath, is one of four overseas players on the NFL's International Player Pathway [IPP] programme who have been given one-year practice squad contracts with teams in the NFC South division.

The 24-year-old defensive end starts his first training camp and pre-season with the New Orleans Saints on Wednesday, after a rapid seven-year rise in the sport.

"My whole life I wanted to be a professional athlete, but the Premier League was not realistic," he told BBC Radio London.

"So I basically just googled American Football and looked at some of the guys, like [future Hall of Fame running back] Adrian Peterson and said 'I can be like that'".

'More likely to get struck by lightning'

Adrian Peterson
Adrian Peterson will be working against Jenkins in training after signing for New Orleans in April

Despite only taking up the game as a 17-year-old with the Bristol Aztecs, Jenkins' talents earned him a full scholarship to play at the University of the Incarnate Word in Texas.

"Initially it was like an amazing way of getting my university paid for and having probably the best experience of my life," he told BBC Points West.

"It's a hard thing to think about when you're 18 and say 'I'm from England and I want to play in the NFL'.

"The odds are you're more likely to get struck by lightning."

A strong senior season in which he made 3.5 sacks, coupled with impressive workouts in front of scouts, had left Jenkins, who used to work in a supermarket, in with a chance of being a late-round draft pick.

But with a contract which guarantees a year to refine his skills in a professional franchise, Jenkins is not unhappy his name was not called.

"I knew there was a possibility I could probably go in the late rounds, but at the same time I have an opportunity to maybe do something more beneficial to my career," he explained.

"Obviously everyone wants to get drafted, but definitely I was not disappointed."

From Bath to the Bayou

Cameron Jordan
Two-time Pro Bowler Cameron Jordan as one of Alex Jenkins' biggest influences with the Saints

Jenkins' participation in the IPP will see him play in four pre-season games this year, with his home games being played in front of up to 74,648 fans at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.

"[The contract] is like a vindication of everything you've been doing, that it's been for something," he told BBC Sport.

"Even though you know that the whole time, you never truly know what the outcome's going to be, I just went with everything that came, all the bad and all the good."

Though he will not be eligible to be moved up to the active roster during the regular season, the 6ft 6ins, 275lbs player is hopeful of earning a contract in 2018.

"Short-term the aim is to have a good pre-season. Longer term is just to make enough impact that I can make an active roster and become an actual contributing member to the team.

"My long-term goal is to win a Super Bowl."

'It's not a charity'

Alex Gray
Alex Gray had never played a down of American football before being signed by the Atlanta Falcons

Former England Sevens captain Alex Gray, 27, who signed with last season's NFC Champions, the Atlanta Falcons, and London-raised Carolina Panthers defensive end Efe Obada are two of the other players benefitting from the IPP.

And the NFL is hopeful of being able to extend the scheme in future seasons.

"I think the goal next year would be hopefully to expand to eight or 12, but our guys are out there looking at who's available," NFL Europe's director of public affairs, David Tossell, told BBC Sport.

"These players have got to be able to hold their own. This is not a charity, these players will make serious contributions to those teams and have to be seen to be contributing.

"Ultimately you'd like every NFL team to be part of the programme, to have an additional international player on their roster and to see the benefit of it."

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