By Erik Engle
In his first season back after recovering from a torn ACL, the orchestrator of the Mustangs' option-oriented offense faced another potential setback — his second ACL injury. It was never a question in senior quarterback Khaleel Jenkins's mind; he was going to do everything in his power to continue to play.
For Jenkins, there are two keys to recovery. The first is staying positive and looking for victories in even the smallest aspects of life.
"With this injury, every day I was looking for small little victories," Jenkins said. "Like 'Hey, I can move it a little more today than I could yesterday,' boom, that's a win today. I have a pretty good support system as far as friends, family and my teammates."
His second key is remaining steadfast in his relationship with his higher power, which was instilled in him at a young age.
"The first thing is keeping faith in God," Jenkins said. "I trust that everything is happening for a reason and that allows me to stay positive."
His positivity has translated to explosive on-field production for the Mustangs, even leading Cal Poly to their first road win since Oct. 29, 2016.
"Everyday I was trying to find things to overcome or win or find things that we can hang our hat on every day. Slowly those turn into habits and then those habits will allow us to win games."
Jenkins' bruising backfield running mate, senior fullback Joe Protheroe, has not only been a force on the field with the dual-threat quarterback, but off the field in Jenkins' personal life as well. Protheroe came to Cal Poly one year before Jenkins, and the two quickly developed a mentor-mentee relationship, according to Jenkins.
"He's just given me endless advice about doing everything I need to do," Jenkins said. "He's just helped me develop this work ethic that I feel is unmatched."
Now, Jenkins doesn't just view Protheroe as a mentor, but as family.
"He named me the godfather of his third daughter," Jenkins said. "It's a really special relationship we have and I'm happy with that."
Protheroe was far from being the only mentor Jenkins has had to learn from in his career, as the San Diego native grew up immersed in sports. He played his first organized sport at four years old, and even attended a magnet sports elementary school. Jenkins also came from a family full of former student-athletes to look up to.
His dad played quarterback for the San Diego State Aztecs. However, Jenkins' most influential mentor was his cousin, Deon Randall.
Randall ranks in the top 10 in several receiving categories for the Yale Bulldogs, but the two actually played high school football together before their NCAA years. In fact, Randall was Jenkins's predecessor at quarterback for Francis Parker High School.
According to Jenkins, football wasn't always his main focus. A star on his high school's basketball court as well, it wasn't until midway through his junior year that he began to realize that football was his destiny.
"Basketball was really my main sport for a lot of my life," Jenkins said. "I had always played both, but I always had this pull toward basketball. Once I received my first offer in my junior year of high school for football, I just started focusing on football a little more."
Now nearing the end of his collegiate career, Jenkins is far more certain about what he would like to pursue after Cal Poly than he was before he arrived at the university.
"I'm gonna try and ride this wave as long as possible," Jenkins said. "I do believe that I have the ability to play in the NFL. At what position, I'm not really sure. I would love to play quarterback; I think I have that ability as well. Any team that's willing to take me, I'll go out there and play any position they need me to and I'll help them win."
But before the lights go down on Jenkins's Cal Poly career, Jenkins still has a burning desire to win a few more games in the green and gold, and to pass along as much knowledge as he can to the stable of young quarterbacks the Mustangs have waiting to take his place.
"When I first got here, my biggest thing was I just wanted to be a sponge to everything," Jenkins said. "So that's what I tell those guys, just be a sponge. Those guys are teaching me things everyday too, so it's a pretty cool experience."
Today, Jenkins is taking everything one day at a time and trying to appreciate all of the big, and little, moments under the lights at Alex G. Spanos Stadium.
"I'm only 21, so I'm just like 'Man, I didn't expect it to come this fast,' but I'm just trying to soak it all up," Jenkins said. "I'm just taking it day by day and trying to enjoy every day."
Erik Engle is a Cal Poly journalism alumnus from Petaluma, Calif.