Hoping History Does Not Repeat

Ohio State fans likely remember a junior cornerback who, after a breakout sophomore season, underperformed and then left school early for the NFL. Does Malcolm Jenkins face the same situation as Ashton Youboty did?

Malcolm Jenkins is hoping things go a bit more smoothly this time.

His situation is a familiar one. After a freshman season that saw him work his way into the starting lineup, Jenkins exploded onto the national scene as a sophomore after working his way into the starting lineup as a freshman partially due to hard work and partially due to an injury to another player.

As a sophomore, Jenkins earned a reputation as one of the nation's top shutdown cornerbacks. For the season, he intercepted four passes – returning one 61 yards for a touchdown – en route to earning first-team All-Big Ten honors. Jenkins topped the Buckeyes with 99 total interception return yards.

Sound familiar?

Just two seasons ago, the Buckeyes entered the 2005 season with a junior cornerback named Ashton Youboty who had started nine games as a sophomore and pulled down four interceptions. That total was good enough to tie him for tops in the Big Ten, and his 83 yards in interception returns led the team.

Youboty would start all 13 games as a junior and record 56 tackles and 1 interception, but the perception was that his performance slipped during the course of the season. That point was hammered home when he was victimized several times during the Buckeyes' 45-31 road victory over Minnesota.

For the game, the Golden Gophers threw for 396 yards and amassed a total of 578 yards of total offense.

But as Jenkins prepares for his third season as a Buckeye, he has his eyes set on putting forth a better body of work than Youboty did in the same situation.

"That's one of the things that everyone always says: ‘You're in the same situation as Ashton,' " Jenkins said. "He had a great sophomore year, everybody came to him and he left after his junior year, blah blah blah. I think he got kind of distracted a little bit. His mind wasn't in the right place and he had, to me, a bad junior year."

While the season might not have turned out the way Youboty had likely hoped, the end result – he was selected with in the third round of the 2006 NFL Draft by the Buffalo Bills and is expected to fight for a starting spot this season – was a positive one.

It has also helped to energize Jenkins as the Buckeyes get their 2007 season underway.

"I'm not really all about accolades," he said. "I'm focused on this year and how we do this year."

Jenkins, not yet 20 years of age, speaks with a quiet confidence. After the Buckeyes' 42-39 victory over Michigan last season, the 6-1, 202-pound cornerback needed no words to show how proud he was of his performance against top Michigan wideout Mario Manningham. When asked why the Wolverines seemed to abandon throwing to him as the game progressed, Jenkins simply smiled.

"He wasn't really open," he said after the game.

It's been a long way for a player who was tabbed a three-star prospect by Scout.com coming out of Piscataway, N.J. While he said he fully expected to be a starter early in his OSU career, he admitted his talents might have caught some other people by surprise.

"I wasn't a big-time recruit, but I came in with the confidence that, when I got here I told Coach (Darrell) Hazell that I was going to start in the Texas game," he said. "I ended up starting in the Michigan State game. That's just the mentality I had when I came in, that I was going to play and I was going to accomplish things."

That attitude has paid off. Linebacker James Laurinaitis calls Jenkins "a natural leader." Wideout Brian Robiskie singled him out as being one of the team's primary leaders during OSU's summer workouts and seven-on-seven camps.

Now he is planning to carry that over into the 2007 season.

"I think there's always going to be pressure on you to produce," he said. "Once you become a big-time player, once you step into that role as one of the big players, that's just how it is."

Only time will tell, then, if history repeats itself when the season is over and the NFL Draft beckons.

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