Shaquill Griffin/instagram Rayshawn Jenkins and Shaquill Griffin
Many kids dream of playing in the NFL alongside their childhood friends, but few have the chance to make that dream a reality.
Enter Rayshawn Jenkins and Shaquill "Shaq" Griffin, teammates on the Jacksonville Jaguars who have been friends for more than 20 years. Cornerback Griffin, 27, and safety Jenkins, 28, first met as 7-year-olds playing for a youth football program in their shared hometown of St. Petersburg, Fla.
"That's when the connection first started," Griffin tells PEOPLE of their time with the Lakewood Jr. Spartans. "The friendship developed easily. It was something very natural, and carried over all the way up to now."
The duo remained close friends as teens into adulthood, despite different high schools and colleges. Jenkins attended the University of Miami, while Griffin played at the University of Central Florida. After college, they were drafted by different NFL teams — Griffin by the Seattle Seahawks and Jenkins by the Los Angeles Chargers. Despite the distance, they remained tight-knit.
James Gilbert / Jacksonville Jaguars Rayshawn Jenkins
Over the years, they'd have dinner at hibachi restaurants or take a jet-ski out, but the athletes always remained focused on football and the same goal of playing professionally. Then in 2021, both signed on as Jaguars.
"We came on the same day to sign our papers and make it official," recalls Griffin of joining the team.
"I feel like being on the same team again, that was a moment that everybody wanted to see," he adds. "To have guys who have been playing with each other for so long make this full circle back to each other, back in Florida, that was big for the city."
For Jenkins, playing with Griffin means he's never far from home. "You just feel like you've got extended family all the time," he says. "It makes you comfortable. This is a dream come true."