All-Big 10 Deserving Honor For A.J. Jenkins

The Fighting Illini football team expected to land more than two players on the All-Big Ten first team, but a six game losing streak pushed several deserving players below that level. However, A.J. Jenkins could not be denied that honor after his tremendous season.

At Camp Rantoul this summer, Illinois senior receiver A.J. Jenkins calmly proclaimed season goals of 80 receptions and 1000 yards. There was no doubt in his mind those goals were achievable. No wonder, since he exceeded them with a likely bowl game still to play. He caught 84 passes for 1,196 yards, just a fraction short of averaging 100 yards a game. He scored 7 touchdowns.

Jenkins denies he has psychic ability.

"When you put in the work during the week like we did during the offseason, you feel you can have a big year. By speaking it, I bring it to life so I know it's no surprise to me. That's what happened."

Former Illinois head coach Ron Zook is excited for Jenkins.

"I care about it for him. I'm very, very close to A.J., and I'm very, very proud of him and happy for him. A.J.'s another guy who did something against (what) everybody (was telling him).

"Nobody wanted him to leave Florida, all his friends and so forth. He stepped out of his comfort zone. There's been some tough days for him, but like we told him when we recruited him, `If you go and do the things we ask you to do, you'll have a big career.'"

Jenkins caught 56 passes for 746 yards in 2010, so his improvement was no surprise. But he worked hard in the off season to make his dreams reach fruition. What is the big difference between last year and this?

"My confidence, man. Last year I had confidence, but this year I've kind of got that swagger every Saturday. It makes me feel I'm a real good player.

"I worked hard with Coach P. (Paul Petrino) through the week on the Jugs machine or whatever. When the ball comes, there are no surprises. I just catch it."

After six big games to open the 2011 season, stronger defensive units began to emphasize containing Jenkins. Making it doubly tough on him was the injury to sophomore receiver Darius Millines, another big-play threat. Jenkins persevered despite the extra attention.

"Some of them tried to pull over a safety with a corner pressing. Or if I'm in the slot, they may try to have a linebacker bracket me in. They did their homework on me, trying to stop me from going deep down the field.

"Some teams try to take you out. They tried to take me out of my game by pushing me over or taking me out of bounds. And talking a little trash. But it's football, it's all fun."

His Illini career may be nearly over, but his life as a receiver hopefully has many good years ahead. He is working hard on his weaknesses.

"I can probably improve on my overall game, blocking, my route-running skills, everything. I'm trying to be the complete receiver."

Late in the year, Petrino tried other ways of getting Jenkins the ball. Reverses and bubble screens helped him find open space and use his speed. He was happy to add those plays to his repertoire.

"I liked the runs. I like touching the ball. I think I did pretty good."

Illini quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase looked for Jenkins frequently; some say too often. Regardless, he had a first hand view of his star receiver. He believes he has a bright future.

"He's definitely got all the tools to be a big-time talent at the highest level in the NFL. The unique set of skills that he has, the way he runs, the way he can catch the ball, the way he gets in and out of his cuts.

"It'll be fun to watch his progression throughout the rest of his career. He could have a long stay in the NFL."

He will also go down in Illini record books as one of the best receivers ever to play at the school.

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