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USF's Jenkins Has All The Tools To Excel In Pros

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USF's Jenkins Has All The Tools To Excel In Pros


Published: April 20, 2008

Updated: 12:11 am

TAMPA - Wally Burnham, the defensive coordinator at the University of South Florida, is a crusty old warhorse who has been coaching college football for more than three decades. So when he says Mike Jenkins is "the second-best cornerback I've ever been on the field with," it's a statement that merits further examination.

We'll do just that in a moment. But first, we've got to solve a little mystery: Who is the best?

"Oh, Deion."

That would be Deion Sanders, who Burnham coached at Florida State. No argument there.

To be mentioned in the same sentence as Deion Sanders, though, is high praise from a guy who knows the goods when he sees it, which Burnham certainly does. Not that Jenkins' prowess is any secret, of course. Come Saturday, he'll be the first USF Bull to go in the first round of the NFL draft - possibly to New Orleans with the 10th pick, but certainly not much lower than that.

"Mike has ball speed, closing speed, and he's a good tackler," Burnham said. "He can play physical. He can play the cat-and-mouse game. He has tons of talent. And I don't think he's as good now as he's going to be at the next level.

"He never gave us any problems. He was always at the right place, always where he was supposed to be. He never missed a study hall. He always had a great attitude. I'll just say this: Mike could have started anywhere I ever coached."

You consider that statement. Then you look at coaching resume that includes nine seasons and a national championship at FSU and you imagine the talent that Burnham has coached. Jenkins could have started anywhere. Impressive.

Rose To The Top

Jenkins has flown toward the top of many mock drafts since impressing scouts and coaches at the combines and in postseason workouts. No less than New England's Bill Belichick, looking to replace former All-Pro corner Asante Samuel, flew to USF to conduct a personal workout for Jenkins. It's considered a strong year for corners in the draft, but Jenkins is rated No. 1 at the position by The Sporting News.

Maybe it's his versatility. Not only can he play different styles, as Burnham alluded to, he also can help in other ways. He blocked a punt in the first game he played at USF as a freshman. The Bulls had him return kicks toward the end of last season. He returned the first one he received 100 yards for a touchdown against Cincinnati.

"I told a guy the other day that he reminds me of Superman," Bulls head coach Jim Leavitt said. "He leaps tall buildings, he flies through the air, he's fast. When you see him close on somebody, it's almost scary.

"But Mike is also very unassuming. He kind of has that Clark Kent feel to him. He's quiet. I don't think he will gravitate toward all the attention that goes with being a first-round pick. When the game is on the line, though, that's when you see his leadership come out. I've seen him challenge people in the huddle and in the locker room to raise their game."

Then there's the whole lead-by-example thing. Burnham tells of one play last season where the other team's guy took a tipped pass and was streaking toward a touchdown. Jenkins was 25, maybe 30 yards away - out of the play. Except he didn't see it that way. Jenkins ran the guy down and just missed keeping him out of the end zone.

"I watch that tape over and over. The closing speed is incredible. He always felt like he had a shot to make a big play," Burnham said. "I never saw anyone here on the football field in four years who could outrun him."

Big Day For The Bulls

Jenkins likely won't be the only USF player to hear his name during the draft.

Fellow corner Trey Williams has drawn interest, as has linebacker Ben Moffitt and offensive tackle Walter Walker. Receiver Amarri Jackson might get a chance, too. It's futile to try and guess, though, especially when you consider what happened to former Bull Andre Hall a couple of years ago.

He led the Big East in rushing but didn't get drafted, although he is now playing with Denver.

"It's such an inexact science, I just stay away from it," Leavitt said. "The whole process is crazy. How can Andre Hall not be drafted? I'll just sit back and relax and watch it."

At least with Jenkins, he shouldn't have to sit too long. That kind of ability and competitiveness is hard to find, especially at corner. And as Raiders coach Al Davis once said, "Give me two corners and I will rule the world."

"You could feel the difference out there in spring practice without him," Burnham said. "He has come so far and meant so much to us. I remember when we recruited him at Bradenton Southeast. He was big and fast, just what every team is looking for. You see how it worked out.

"Now, when we're evaluating high school corners to recruit, we always have Mike in mind. He's about as good as it gets."


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USF's Jenkins Has All The Tools To Excel In Pros

TAMPA - Wally Burnham...is a crusty old warhorse

I love this guy, great description. Wally probably doesn't get the credit he deserves for the rise of this program.

Great article on Jenks also although, I would think that the Tampa Trib would be able to spell Trae after covering him for 4 years.

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