The student voice of Washington State University since 1895

The Daily Evergreen

The student voice of Washington State University since 1895

The Daily Evergreen

The student voice of Washington State University since 1895

The Daily Evergreen

Djouvensky Schlenbaker’s patience has paid off

From Haiti to Bellingham to Pullman: Redshirt freshman running back stepped up in difficult year
Djouvensky Schlenbaker stands in the front row of the players as the Cougar Marching Bands performs the WSU Fight Song, Sept. 23, in Pullman, Wash.

There was a preseason NFL game on the TV and a young Djouvensky Schlenbaker was sitting on the bed in a hotel room in Haiti. He was watching the sport of football for the first time in his life, captivated by the complicated madness. Two things were pleasantly ironic about this scene that day. Djouvensky was watching the sport that would turn into his passion, and he was sitting in a hotel room with the people who would go on to become his family. 

From kicking his first football on the streets of Haiti to slashing through defenders into the endzone, Djouvensky Schlenbaker was meant to play football. Djouvensky has earned considerable playing time for Washington State’s team in 2023 and has the eyes of millions on him, but his story started in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, where he lived in an orphanage. This is where he first met Kendra Schlenbaker.

“My husband and I met Djouvensky at different times, I actually ended up meeting him on a mission trip. I remember seeing him in his crib, and he was tiny at the time,” Kendra Schlenbaker said.

Upon returning from her trip, Kendra told her husband Brett Schlenbaker about the little boy she met in Haiti. This is when the two decided that they wanted to adopt. The couple made another trip back to Haiti together to move forward with adopting Djouvensky. 

“He was just a little leech, I remember holding his hand and walking around the orphanage with him,” Brett said. 

Kendra said the two fell in love with a young Djouvensky and his personality. They adopted Djouvensky and his sister Djennika in 2010, due to a lengthy adoption process abroad. The Schlenbakers live in Bellingham, Washington, where Djouvensky played football at Squalicum High School. Djouvensky was a star for the Storm, graduating in the class of 2022. 

As a senior, Djouvensky earned an All-Northwest Conference First Team selection as a running back and set Squalicum’s career rushing record with over 4,000 yards. 

Djouvensky said that for his senior season, Leyton Smithson joined the Squalicum team after previously playing and living in Idaho. Now a receiver at WSU, Smithson played quarterback for Squalicum alongside Djouvensky in the backfield. The pair was quite effective together in the senior campaign. Djouvensky said that Smithson lived in Squalicum and played football with him when they were younger, so his return was a full-circle moment.

Upon finishing his high school career, rated Djouvensky a three-star prospect.  He had offers to play football from Washington State, California, Air Force, Colorado, Nevada, Virginia Tech, and other Washington schools. Djouvensky ultimately chose Washington State. He said that he chose WSU because of the family-like atmosphere and the campus. 

Even with the firing of head coach Nick Rolovich and other staff for failure to get the mandated COVID-19 vaccine in 2021, Djouvensky would ultimately stay loyal to Pullman. Djouvensky said that he ended up going on an atypical second recruiting visit to Pullman to meet then-recently hired Jake Dickert, the current head coach for WSU, as well as the new staff. He said he never questioned where he wanted to go throughout the process. 

Djouvensky arrived at WSU in Spring 2022. finishing high school early to participate in spring practices. After the spring period, the coaching staff chose to redshirt Djouvensky for the 2022 season. This is a common move and it meant that Djouvensky could only play in four games that year. He ended up seeing time in one game that year. This opportunity came on the road at Stanford, in Palo Alto, California.

 Djouvensky rushed the ball four times for 50 yards, breaking a long run for 34 yards against Stanford. This was limited action, but Djouvensky showed off his electric speed on the 34-yarder, showing WSU fans a glimpse of his talent. The Cougars finished 7-6 in 2022 and the team returned all of their running backs in 2023.

Heading into the 2023 season, Djouvensky sat behind senior Nakia Watson and sophomore Jaylen Jenkins, while sharing time with the rest of the backfield. 

Djouvensky said he saw this as a challenge, and it only motivated him to work harder in practice and workouts. The second-year player continued to show up with authority on gameday, making several key plays on special teams. 

The Cougars went 5-7 in the 2023 season and this time around Djouvensky saw action in every game. 

Before the Arizona State game, Jaylen Jenkins was released from the team. This meant that an opportunity for the 6-foot, 210-pounder had arrived as the number two back behind senior Nakia Watson for the Cougars.

In this extended role against Arizona State, he had a tough eight-yard run and was an asset in pass protection for the Cougars. 

Djouvensky spent the final four games of the season in an exponentially extended role, rushing for a season-high 42 yards against the California Golden Bears. Djouvensky said he is committed to WSU despite the uneasiness of the conference situation regarding WSU. The hard work has finally paid off for him, and he is loyal to the school that gave him that opportunity. 

Djouvensky said, “I’m just grateful to be where I’m at today. I used to be in the orphanage when I was little, not knowing where I would be, and now to have my dream of playing college football come true is pretty cool.”

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About the Contributors
Zach is a junior multimedia journalism major from Clarkston, Washington. He likes football and grew up going to Cougar football games.
BRANDON WILLMAN, Multimedia editor
Brandon Willman is a junior multimedia journalism student from Vancouver, Washington. He started working as a sportswriter for the Daily Evergreen in Fall 2022 and worked as copy editor in spring 2023. Brandon was elected to be the Editor-in-chief starting in summer 2023 and served in the position from May 2023 to February 2023 before transitioning to the role of multimedia editor. He enjoys watching sports, backpacking, and watching horror movies.