[Premium Article] One of the hottest receivers in the country the second half of the season, Mississippi State junior flanker Justin Jenkins would like to pick up right where he left off last year."> [Premium Article] One of the hottest receivers in the country the second half of the season, Mississippi State junior flanker Justin Jenkins would like to pick up right where he left off last year.">

Jenkins hopes to keep 'hot hand' against Ducks

<img src="http://www.genespage.com/images/01players/football/2003/jenkinsj.jpg" align="left" width="119" height="162"> [Premium Article] One of the hottest receivers in the country the second half of the season, Mississippi State junior flanker Justin Jenkins would like to pick up right where he left off last year.

A threat from anywhere on the field, Jenkins gave opposing defenses fits with his ability to catch the football and with his knack for picking up extra yardage once he had the ball in his possession.

In the next-to-last game of the season, the 6-1, 205-pound speedster hauled in seven receptions for 116 yards in an exciting, 36-28, Thanksgiving triumph over arch-rival Ole Miss before a record crowd at Davis Wade Stadium at Scott Field and a national ESPN audience. He followed up that superlative performance by again grabbing seven balls, this time for 133 yards in a season-ending, near-upset of then top-10 ranked BYU.

Jenkins caught 42 passes for 661 yards and eight touchdowns last year, an average of 15.7 yards per catch. He showed a tremendous increase in production, over basically, the final five games of the season.

Mississippi State takes off the wraps Saturday against the Oregon Ducks of the West Coast Pac-10 Conference at Eugene, OR, in its 2002 season opener.

"I see us doing real well this year, building on how we finished up a year ago," said Jenkins, who finished up the campaign with back-to-back 100-yard plus receiving games.

"We had a down season last year but that's not Mississippi State football," he said of the team that has won the most regular season games in the SEC West over the past five seasons.

"I feel like if we can come out and take it to Oregon, take it to 'em real fast, and maintain, and win the game, I think it's going to be a great year for Mississippi State," the highly-touted Pearl, Miss., product said.

Jenkins, along with senior split end Terrell Grindle of Hattiesburg, Miss., who had 40 catches last year, gives the Dogs one of the most feared returning pass receiving tandems in the suddenly, more "air prone" Southeastern Conference. Long the "three yards and a cloud of dust" league, the modern-day SEC has some of the better passes and receivers in the country.

Mississippi State's Jackie Sherrill, Dean of the SEC coaches, likes to run and pass, and should find the Dogs pretty proficient in both this fall with junior Kevin Fant at the controls, and with receivers like Jenkins and Grindle and a talented cast of young pass catchers moving up.

Behind the talented upperclass duo is Darius Tubbs, Ray Ray Bivines, Antonio Hargro and freshmen McKinley Scott, of Tunica, Miss., Tee Milons of Starkville, Brandon Wright of Memphis, Tenn., and Will Prosser of Starkville Academy.

"I feel like Kevin (Fant) is a great leader for this team and a great role model for the young guys," said Jenkins, a gifted receiver. "I feel like we can all rally behind him and win."

Jenkins said there was a close bond between the receivers and the quarterback. "We get along real well. If I mess up, he gets on me, and I feel like if he's not doing something I would tell him. There's a bond between us and also between him and the other guys on this team.

"I'm sure they'll (Oregon) be favored, but we're not worried about numbers," said Jenkins of the Ducks who finished No. 2 in the nation last year behind national champion Miami and who are currently ranked No. 15. "We're worried about getting on the field and actually playing those guys.

"We have a lot of confidence going out there and playing, lot of experience and speed. They're a powerhouse football team, but we feel like we're capable of being a powerhouse as well," added Jenkins, who said he would like to perform well, help the team whether its three catches or five, or whatever, but more importantly, I just want to go out there and have fun and win the game.

"Individual stats come second while team stats come first," said Jenkins, who added he feels like he's running pass routes better and has improved his game under position coach Craig Stump.

Oregon has some outstanding receivers as well Jenkins noted ... a Heisman candidate in three-year letter winner Keenan Howry, 5-11, 170. But the Bulldogs' top returning pass catcher feels like he can hold his own.

"I feel like I can go out there and play well," said Jenkins. "It's a little bit of a challenge but I'm mainly worried about the defense, the defensive backs, and what they do."

A two-way performer as a strong safety and quarterback as a prep all-star, Jenkins said he felt like if the Dogs get the "W" that the recognition will come.

"The "W" is really the main thing," pointed out Jenkins. "We only had three last year and we want more than that. We want to be known everywhere. If we go out there and win, I believe that will happen."

Never mind Oregon is nationally ranked, Mississippi State is trying to treat it just like any other game.

"You can't forget about Oregon being ranked, but we're going to try to treat it like any other game," said Jenkins, who'll have plenty of support at Eugene from family and friends when the Dogs' tangle with the Ducks in the opener for both schools.

"My mother and father, Mr. and Mrs. Henry Jenkins, are going to the game," said Jenkins with a broad smile, and my uncle will be there.

"It means a lot to know your parents will be there cheering for you," added Jenkins, active in the Fellowship of Christian Athletes. "It's inspiring."

The stage has been set for Pac-10 - SEC duel with the nation tuned in for the 5 p.m. kickoff via FOX Sports Net, a showdown of two powerhouses, according to Jenkins.


Don Foster, a veteran newspaper writer, is the Sports Editor for the Starkville Daily News. He will be writing regular feature articles for Gene's Page, the unofficial source for Mississippi State sports and Mississippi High School sports on the internet.

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