Jalen Jelks did not debate skipping the Redbox Bowl.
“I never worried about that, honestly,” the Oregon senior defensive end said Monday. “I just wanted to play with my team in a game before I got the chance to get up out of here. Another opportunity and a good team to play against.”
Jelks missed Oregon’s 55-15 win over Oregon State on Nov. 23 due to a leg injury suffered the previous week against Arizona State. He has been limited in bowl practices while getting treatment on his leg, but plans to return against Michigan State on Dec. 31 at Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, Calif.
More than a dozen players around the nation have announced they will skip their school’s bowl game to avoid injury and prepare for the NFL Draft.
Oregon running back Royce Freeman sat out the Las Vegas Bowl last year, but no Ducks have indicated they will miss a the game against the Spartans. Jelks would have had more excuses than most players to skip the game as he continues to recover from injury.
“I didn’t get a chance to play in my last game so of course I am going to try and get back,” he said. “It sucked not playing because I will never get a chance to play the Beavers again, but hopefully I can take some frustration out on Michigan State.”
Jelks likely would have been drafted last year if he left after his junior season, but returned to get 54 tackles, including 7 1/2 for loss, as a senior. He was the only Duck to earn first-team, all-Pac-12 honors on offense or defense.
The 6-foot-6, 245-pounder is projected as an early-round pick in the NFL Draft and has been listed in the first round of a few projections. Despite the payday ahead, Jelks said he would return to Oregon another year if he still had eligibility.
“I love this team, I haven’t been around a program like this,” Jelks said. “The way the coaches are and the future, it is great. Of course I’d come back if I could.”
That’s the attitude that his position coach, Joe Salave’a, expected to hear from Jelks.
“I’m more of an old-school mentality,” said Salave’a, who played eight years as a defensive lineman in the NFL after being selected in the fourth round of the 1998 draft. “I believe you contribute to a program and you never want to leave it undone. You want to make sure you finish what you started. That is a tribute to Jalen because he has done a lot of things over the years for this program and that shows his character. Those guys have a tremendous future ahead of them, but it is about having value in something. If these guys didn’t wholeheartedly care about what we started with coach Cristobal and his staff, it would be easy to say ‘I’m going to pack my bags and carry on’. That hasn’t been the case and it says a lot about his leadership.”
Jelks will begin preparations for the draft next month after accepting an invitation to play in the Senior Bowl on Jan. 26 in Mobile, Ala.
“I was happy about that,” Jelks said. “My mom called almost crying so be be able to make my parents proud is great. I love having another opportunity to play football.”
That’s why Jelks will remain with the Ducks through the Redbox Bowl.
“Some guys are in situations where a good play in a game like this that is going to be scouted heavily could help them and their status in the draft as well,” UO coach Mario Cristobal noted. “Part of that is a personal and business decision. Most of them would all agree this makes good sense.”