A.J. Jenkins Ecstatic With 49er Selection

For a team that has struggled to win games in recent years, the Fighting Illini football team has enjoyed unprecedented success in the NFL draft. Five Illini have been drafted in the first round the past five years, including two Thursday evening. A.J. Jenkins and Whitney Mercilus shared center stage for the Illini, and no one could be happier about it than Jenkins.

Illinois wide receiver A.J. Jenkins was chosen by San Francisco as the 30th pick in the first round of the 2012 NFL draft Thursday evening. He and fellow Illini Whitney Mercilus are the first duo to achieve that honor since Kevin Hardy and Simeon Rice in 1996.

Jenkins sounded like a broken record as media inquired about his feelings on the draft. If he said it once, he said it ten times:

"I'm just excited to be a part of a great program and a great organization."

One can forgive him the ecstasy that comes when one achieves surprising and uplifting results. He knew it was possible to be a first rounder, but he certainly didn't expect it.

"My agent told me I would go late first or early second round. But it's just crazy that I was taken in the first round by a great organization with a great program, great coaching staff and great players. I was just happy and excited to be going to that organization."

Jenkins recalled the instant he learned of his good fortune.

"I watched it with my mom, my two sisters, my brother and my cousins. We were watching the draft just joking around laughing. I went to the bathroom and someone said, 'Your phone is ringing,' and I thought they were joking with me. I looked at the phone and it said San Jose and I was like, 'Oh, my God.' It was just amazing. I had no idea."

Jenkins admitted he dreamed of this day as a youngster.

"Everybody has a dream to walk across the stage, meet with the Commissioner and shake his hand. Hold up the #1 jersey."

No, he wasn't the first pick in the overall draft. That honor went to Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck. But first round is close enough. Jenkins credits former Illini coach Paul Petrino for molding him into an accomplished receiver.

"I went through a lot of ups and downs. Coach Petrino really pushed me hard. He pushed me every single day. He's probably the reason I'm here now. I give him all the credit in the world. He pushed me to a point beyond where I thought I could be pressed. I'm blessed to be in this position."

Jenkins had great performances in the NFL Combine and again at the Illini Pro Timing Day. But he feels what pushed him over the top was the compatibility he felt when he worked out with San Francisco prior to the draft.

"It was great. We had a good get-together. We vibed together and talked about football and had a great time. I thought it was the perfect fit, to be honest. I just didn't know the phone call was going to come so soon."

He will have plenty of competition for playing time with the 49ers, but he sees that as a blessing. He expects Randy Moss, Michael Crabtree, Mario Manningham plus tight end Vernon Davis among others to serve as positive role models.

"I think it's great. I can learn from those guys. For me, it's good to be around those players. I'm blessed and I'm honored. It's a great position to be in. I can't wait to go out there and work with the players."

He is also excited to work with 49er head coach Jim Harbaugh.

"He's a great coach, man. He's very outgoing. He's a player's coach, and I love him."

Jenkins will be traveling Friday to meet the coaches and media on the West Coast.

"I'm going to San Francisco for a press conference out there. Then I'm coming back here and work out, continue to work on the small things to be the best I can be."

Jenkins broke records at Illinois. He caught 90 passes for 1276 yards and 8 touchdowns as a senior in 2011, and his contributions will be difficult to replace. But the Illini's loss is San Francisco's gain.

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