"Feed The Studs" Includes A.J. Jenkins

Last year was frustrating for everyone associated with the Illini football program. Things were going wrong, and everyone was looking for answers. Receiver A.J. Jenkins considered a transfer, but he changed his mind and is glad he did. He is now becoming the receiver everyone hoped he would, and he is putting team ahead of self.

By now most people know the story how A.J. Jenkins considered transferring from Illinois after the first semester last year. The team fared poorly, and he didn't have the season or the offense he felt was ideal for him. Fortunately for the Illini, he changed his mind.

"My attitude changed a lot. Last year I was real frustrated and wanted to leave. I wanted to be happy 100% and I was thinking of moving closer to home. I've changed my work ethic, my studies, and a lot of things. I'm real comfortable with the offensive coaches. I have no regrets."

When Paul Petrino was hired as offensive coordinator, one of the first things he did was contact Jenkins. He wanted the Jacksonville, Florida, product to envision how me might fit in the new offense.

"He was introducing me to the offense. He wasn't trying to get me to stay or leave. He gave me some numbers to some references of his about his coaching.

"I did my research when I went home that Christmas. Him having success at Louisville, Arkansas, and the NFL was really good for my decision. I talked about it with my pops and made the best decision for me."

Spring ball saw a new Jenkins as he dedicated himself to reaching his potential as a receiver. Coach Ron Zook and his staff noticed, naming him Most Improved offensive player.

"A.J. Jenkins, we all knew he was a very talented guy," Zook states. "More than anything, A.J. matured. He grew up. He's tougher, he's blocking. If things go wrong, he doesn't hang his head. If Coach Petrino gets on him or I get on him, he takes constructive criticism in a good way.

"He had a great spring, and that's one of the reasons he won an award. A.J.'s done a good job off the field and in the classroom. He hasn't missed a study hall or done any of that stuff."

The motivation was there, and he now had the coaching from Petrino to push him to his limits.

"He's very energetic, and he brings out the best every day. If you're walking, he wants you to walk fast. I like him a lot. I've never had a coach who pushes me as hard as he does, mentally and physically. He's very good."

Jenkins also praises Zook, who is helping recreate the type of team Jenkins prefers.

"Coach Zook has really let me mature as a man. He's been a real blessing to me. I was real frustrated, and things weren't clicking in my mind. I'm happier now. It's a team now. There's no spotlight on Juice (Williams) or Rejus (Benn)."

Jenkins is challenged each day in practice as he goes against talented cornerbacks Tavon Wilson and Terry Hawthorne. He has great respect for Wilson.

"We're real good friends, but when we compete we bring the best out of each other. He's a real good defensive back. He's real physical. In my mind, I'm competing against the best defensive back in the league."

Hawthorne has great speed and athleticism. Jenkins says he is now becoming a cornerback.

"Terry has been real good. The transition he made this spring to defensive back has been real good. He's still young and he can still learn. He had a really good year for a freshman last year."

Jenkins isn't interested in becoming the squad's only superstar. Rather, he wants to be one of several players counted on to make plays for the Illini. Putting team ahead of self is a sign of leadership.

"Coach Petrino was talking about feeding the studs not feeding the stud. The studs are plural. Everybody is contributing all across the boards. We're just doing our thing."

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