Jenkins Explodes On Scene In 1st Season

Illinois' freshman wide receiver A. J. Jenkins had his coming out party Saturday, catching 3 passes for 117 yards and two touchdowns. Unfortunately, it was overshadowed by a heartbreaking loss to the Minnesota Gophers. But the hard working Jenkins has a bright future.

Jenkins was no doubt thrilled with his big day. But he was distraught afterward.

"I'd trade all the stats and touchdowns for a win. It's disappointing. But like Coach Zook said, on Monday we'll watch the film and then get ready to work."

A. J. Jenkins will always remember his first two Illini touchdowns. On the first, a Minnesota defensive lapse left him wide open on the sideline.

"I was surprised. I looked up and had no corner or safety on me. They didn't cover me at all. So Juice saw me and threw the ball, and I just had to make a play."

That 54 yard pass/catch touchdown brought life to an offense stymied by offensive inconsistency. His second touchdown catch, a 35 yarder where he made a great leaping catch in the back of the end zone, gave the Illini a chance to win. He didn't even expect to be in on that play.

"Actually, I was on the bench to get some water and Coach Zook called my name to go out on the field. Juice just threw it up and trusted me to get the ball."

The 6'-0", 175 pounder out of Terry Parker High School in Jacksonville, Florida, is an outstanding talent with speed and a 38 inch vertical leap. Scout rated him the 36th best receiver in the nation last year, and he was named a SuperPrep All-American. But it is his work ethic that has allowed him to see the field this soon.

"Coach Zook is very strict about who he puts out on the field. So I believe my hard work has been a big help to me. Right now, I'm just trying to fit into the program and the offense."

Wide receiver coach Kurt Beathard works with A. J. after most practices.

"Yeah, he wants to work," Beathard explains. "He understands he can't just go out and do it anymore. He's trying to get better at the little things, a correction here or there after every game. We try to get those things better.

"Every night, he goes home with a list of corrections from the day. And he writes them up and brings them back to me with copies. That helps him learn it. That dedication will help in the long run. He's a good kid to work with."

Jenkins confirms the story.

"It helps me alot. I really want to be a very good receiver for this program. So I figured me staying after practice helps me learn more about the offense and my craft. Coach Beathard always gives me homework every night. He tells me to write up some plays. I always give him more than he asks. That's kind of helped me out."

A. J. also appreciates the help provided by his fellow receivers.

"On my visit when I was still in high school, Rejus (Benn)was my mentor. So Rejus has been kind of a big brother for me. Will Judson, Chris James, Jeff Cumberland, Chris Duvalt, Jarrod Fayson, all the upperclassmen receivers have been big brother types for me."

Jenkins is a humble young man who wants to earn his place. He has learned a lot about patience.

"My Pops always told me to stay patient. The path to success is to keep working hard. When the opportunity comes, you have to take advantage of it. And Juice (Williams) and all the mentors have kind of guided me to stay humble and be patient."

A. J. also has kickoff duties, and he is waiting patienty for a seam to open so he can take it the distance. But his hunger for personal success is superceded by team goals.

"People have been thinking we are like the old Illini. Coach Zook has been trying to help us get more swagger into the game. People have been thinking last year was kind of a fluke, and we've been trying to prove everybody wrong. Kind of get a new identity."

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