SANTA CLARA, Calif. — A.J. Jenkins got called "E.T." as a teen for his conspicuously large hands and long fingers. He didn't mind then, and now he relishes the nickname. He could palm a basketball by age 12, and those hands have served him well ever since.
On Friday, when the San Francisco 49ers formally introduced their first-round wide receiver chosen 30th overall out of Illinois, Jenkins juggled a football for photographers and spun it on the ground right over the large SF at the 50-yard line of one of the team's practice fields.
"In high school, they called me E.T. because I had big hands and big fingers," Jenkins said. "So, I got picked on a lot for my hands. But they came for good use at something. That's good enough."
As for the references to the sci-fi movie hit, "E.T., The Extra-Terrestrial," Jenkins said, "I don't mind, I don't care, it's cool."
Jenkins is on a cross-country joy ride after flying into the Bay Area from his hometown of Jacksonville, Fla.
Jenkins beamed while holding up his new red No. 17 Niners jersey. When asked why that number after wearing No. 8, he quipped, "Seven plus one is eight."
The talented wideout made quite an impression on Day 1 for more than his large hands. He was spiffy from head to toe in a dark pinstripe suit, lavender button-up dress shirt and matching diamond-patterned tie, accessorized by a pair of sparkly diamond studs in his ears.
"This is tailored. I didn't buy it, it was free, you know?" Jenkins said, chuckling.
Jenkins flew to San Francisco on a 6 a.m. flight Friday, and had yet to sleep at all when he arrived at team headquarters for a day he had been waiting for all his life. He watched a movie on the plane "still with jitters in my stomach," then immediately started talking football with his new teammates and coaches. He spoke with fellow receiver and return man Ted Ginn Jr. among others.
"Well, I haven't slept yet. I'm still up but right now I'm trying to just embrace the moment," Jenkins said. "I'm very proud to be here in San Francisco. I'm humbled and blessed and I'm just honored to be here."
Jenkins will have some business to attend to back home soon, too. On Friday, he cleared up exactly what happened amid the craziness at his house when the 49ers called. His cousin had previously pranked him earlier pretending to be a team. And Jenkins thought it was happening again when San Francisco rang.
"I guess this time he was serious. The boy who cried wolf I guess, so I didn't really believe him," Jenkins said. "So, I'm in the bathroom still and he kicked the door down, like literally on the floor. And he threw me the phone. So, that is probably going to be my first present to buy my mom a new bathroom door."
The 6-foot, 192-pound Jenkins — those hands measure 9½ inches thumb to pinkie — had 90 catches for 1,276 yards and eight touchdowns in his senior season for the Fighting Illini and led the Big Ten Conference with an average of 6.92 receptions per game. He caught 19 TD passes during his four-year college career.
He was borderline hysterical late Thursday, fighting tears when he spoke to the media by conference call and still stunned to be a first-rounder.
"Last night was very emotional," Jenkins said. "It was a phone call I'd been waiting for 22 years. Also, getting a phone call from this kind of an organization is definitely a plus. It's a blessing. I can't wait to go to work."
Jenkins is set to graduate with a sports management degree May 13 — and coach Jim Harbaugh has already given his support for Jenkins to be there despite it being the weekend of San Francisco's first rookie minicamp.
"This is a great step in a journey and a lot of hard work," Harbaugh said. "This guy has been working his tail off, not only in high school and college but look at what he's done over the last four months. He's played in two all-star games, East/West, the Senior, Combine. He's done his own personal workout at Illinois and then he probably had about eight or 10 teams that came in and gave him workouts. He even had a workout at 7:30 a.m. on a Sunday morning for a team. So, he's not afraid of competition. He's not afraid to work, great humility."
On Friday night, San Francisco had the 61st overall pick in the second round and then No. 92 in the third round.