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Bradenton Herald: Jenkins among best cornerbacks in the country


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Jenkins among best cornerbacks in the country

By RYAN T. BOYD

rboyd@bradenton.com

TAMPA --

The play was indicative of who Mike Jenkins is.

With the University of South Florida in a dogfight at then-No. 17 Auburn late in the fourth quarter earlier this month, Jenkins intercepted a pass and returned it 38 yards to the Tigers' 3-yard line. It was one of the plays that helped the Bulls earn a 26-23 overtime win.

Now, for the first time in school history, the Bulls (2-0) are ranked in The Associated Press Top 25 Poll, at No. 23 entering Saturday's home game against North Carolina.

Jenkins' mental toughness and hard work, characteristics he tries to exude daily, came to the forefront on the play.

"Coming from where I came from got me mentally tough," said Jenkins, a senior cornerback and All-American candidate who graduated from Southeast High in 2003. "When I was little back at the crib, we played throw 'em up, bust 'em up with Powerade bottles. Being hit on the cement, you had no choice but to be tough coming up.

"When I'm down and I get a nick in my body, I think back to then. I've been through way worse stuff than a sprained ankle. Just tape me up, and I'm going to go out there and play."

In the past two years, Jenkins has been involved in a tackle that left an opponent temporarily paralyzed, dealt with the death of two teammates, and six months ago became the father of a baby boy, Mekhi.

"These two years, I definitely think I matured," said Jenkins, who has 10 tackles and three passes defended. "I was kind of big-headed. I thought I didn't have to watch film on anybody. I thought I could go out there and play, because I was Mike Jenkins. But I learned the hard way, after I got caught over a couple of times and got scored on a few times. These two years have taught me a lot."

Jenkins' growth hasn't gone unnoticed.

"Mike is one of the best corners I've seen in my life," said defensive end George Selvie, who's leading the nation in sacks with 5.5. "Mike is a team leader. If the offense breaks for a big play and he has to chase after somebody, he's going to get on the defensive line. I like that about him, and I respect him a lot."

Both Jenkins and the Bulls will be in the spotlight for Saturday's game, which will be televised nationally on ESPN. The Bulls can't afford to look past the Tar Heels (1-2), especially with a Big East conference showdown against fifth-ranked West Virginia looming Sept. 28.

"I'm not sure a lot of our guys are past the Auburn victory," Jenkins said. "I don't know if they think North Carolina will be a pushover. It's real hard not to look past North Carolina, but at the same time you got to stay focused, because, if not, you are going to get punched in the mouth. I feel like we are going to be ready for each and every game."

After last season, Jenkins could have bolted for the NFL. The mega-dollars were on the table. The Sporting News ranked him as the 19th best cornerback in the country, and he was predicted to be drafted between the second and fourth rounds.

He knew he could make an impact on the field at Raymond James Stadium. Just not on Sundays - yet.

"This year, I've tried to keep my focus, and not listen to Mel Kiper Jr.," Jenkins said. "On the streak that we are on and how we are winning, it was worth it to come back. I just tried to get better, and I know if I do that, the money will come."

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Nice to be getting this kind of love out of such a recruiting hotbed.

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