Senior Retrospective: Malcolm Jenkins

With the 2008 football season over, Ohio State has said goodbye to a number of senior standouts who have been part of one of the nation's top programs over the past few seasons. With that in mind, we're running a weeklong series of Senior Retrospectives on the principal members of that group. We stay on the defensive side of the ball today with Malcolm Jenkins.

Ask Malcolm Jenkins to rank the best cornerbacks – other than himself – in Ohio State's history and the reigning Thorpe Award winner has a list ready.

"I would probably rank Antoine Winfield No. 1 because he wasn't that big of a guy, but he played like he was 210 pounds, and he could do it all," Jenkins said. "Then Shawn Springs because he could cover pretty much anybody. Then Nate Clements and Ahmed Plummer would be tied. Nate was one of the highest-paid defensive players in the NFL for awhile. Then I would take (Chris) Gamble, because he was just a freak athlete. Then Ashton Youboty and if you throw Jack Tatum in there, he was kind of a tweener, he was probably better than everybody in terms of being a legendary player and hitter."

Obviously, Jenkins knows Ohio State history. So where would the three-year starter and 2008 captain put himself in that pecking order?

"I don't think I stand a chance," he said. "The only thing that would help me is winning the Thorpe Award. That's the only way I can get in the conversation, in my book."

Jenkins words show that the humble nature of many of Ohio State's stars extends even to a guy who was known for his brash trash-talking on the field. Off the gridiron, Jenkins was a consummate student-athlete, combining the skill that made him a three-time first-team All-Big Ten choice with the leadership that allowed him to excel in his Omega Psi Phi fraternity.

Not bad for a guy who was just a three-star recruit and the No. 28 safety in his class of 2005. In fact, the low recruiting rankings of Jenkins, who did not camp before his senior season, earned him some ribbing among his teammates through the years.

"We all joke around," linebacker James Laurinaitis said. "He was a two-star before senior year. I give him crap about that. We were all underrated coming in. And to see the kind of success he's had and how much he's grown in his faith is something that's truly inspiring and it's going to be a lifelong friendship."

Jenkins' ascendance to one of the top defensive players in the country would have been best-case scenario when Ohio State offered him a scholarship a few weeks after having him in for a summer camp during 2004. About a month afterward, the Piscataway, N.J., native made his decision for the Scarlet and Gray over hometown Rutgers as well as Virginia Tech.

"Coach (Mel) Tucker pointed out things I didn't know I was doing," Jenkins said of his time at the OSU camp. "He taught me some different bump-and-run coverages and how to better defend a fade route. I left camp liking the way OSU's staff teaches players, which helped me make my decision to come to Ohio State.

Tucker later left to become a coach with the Cleveland Browns before Jenkins even arrived, but wavering was not in Jenkins' makeup.

"I felt like Ohio State wanted me, not just a player to fill its roster," he said. "I loved the OSU campus. I like the coaching staff, and it just felt like the right place for me."

His high school head coach, Larry Lester, had a rather prescient view of what Jenkins would become after he led the Chiefs to three New Jersey state titles as well as winning state track titles.

"Malcolm's leadership qualities, his willingness to be taught, and his desire to teach others younger than him are his greatest strengths," Lester said.

All would become evident by the time Jenkins finished his Ohio State career. In fact, it didn't take long for the cornerback to make an impact. He started to impress during fall camp and became the team's nickel back as wel as a spot starter in the regular lineup.

He ended up playing in three games, missing a few because of a knee injury, and finished with a total of 37 tackles with two passes defended.

"Before camp, the coaches told me I had a shot," he said. "So, I worked hard and by the end of camp I was in line to play. … I made a couple big plays the first few days of camp. I just wanted everyone to know I was here.

"I set my goals real high. That's something that I strived for and worked for because I wanted to play right away. I didn't want to sit on the sidelines and watch. So, that was my goal coming in."

Suffice it to say that Jenkins' mission was accomplished. That standout campaign helped him earn a starting job as a cornerback after Tyler Everett and Ashton Youboty left following the 2005 campaign.

All he did was cement himself as one of the best cornerbacks in the conference and perhaps the nation during the 2006 season while the Buckeyes went through an undefeated regular season.

He made 55 tackles, 40 of which were solo stops and 4.5 of which were behind the line of scrimmage. He made four interceptions totaling a team-high 99 return yards, none bigger than his pick six that sealed the Penn State game. He shut down Mario Manningham of Michigan to help the No. 1 Buckeyes beat No. 2 Michigan in a showdown of the nation's top teams.

He also began that season as the most experienced DB on the field when it came to playing time.

"It is a weird position to be in, being so young, but it's a position I've been forced to take on," Jenkins said of his leadership role. "I think the coaches and some of my teammates are helping me ease that load. I'm looking forward to taking on that role and I'm happy about it."

Even after earning all-conference laurels, Jenkins told Bill Greene that his success could only happen with help from his teammates.

"To be honest my play was magnified by the great players around me and by our coaching staff," he said. "Everything I've accomplished I owe to them. When our defensive line and linebackers are getting great pressure on the quarterback, it makes it easier for me to play on an island out there. Coach (Jim) Heacock always has us in a position to be successful. It's a team effort."

That attitude helped him become even better during the 2007 season. Jenkins made 44 tackles, five TFL and snagged another four interceptions, which helped him become a second-team All-American. He capped the year with an interception in the national title game against LSU.

When it came time to make a decision about his pro career, Jenkins chose to return, becoming the first of the major Buckeyes to do so.

"I don't feel that I've accomplished everything I can accomplish in college football, and there's still a lot for me to conquer and shoot for: the national championship, another Big Ten championship, the Thorpe Award," he said. "And I really look forward to the honors and perks associated with being a senior on this team."

Much of those goals came true during his senior campaign. A career-high 57 tackles along with a sack, three forced fumbles and three interceptions helped him take home the Thorpe, and he was a captain that seemed to inspire his team whenever it needed it.

A number of the team's best plays of the year were put together by Jenkins. His interception against Purdue was a highlight-reel play, and he blocked crucial punts for points against both the Boilermakers and Illinois.

He even earned praise from his teammates and coaches on Election Day when they chose him as the Ohio State player most likely to win public office, should he choose to run.

"Malcolm Jenkins is a unifying guy," head coach Jim Tressel said. "He's that guy, he wants to talk about football, when he practices football he demands out of the scout team they do what he demands out of himself.

"Then when football's over, he's on the campus doing things. He's not just staying in his own little world. He makes sure that the whole campus knows who he is and he'd there to help and all those things."

Tressel punctuated his remarks by pounding his fist on the lectern while adding, "I would vote for Malcolm Jenkins."

A career like that is one reason why Laurinaitis gave Jenkins the ultimate complement a teammate can receive.

"Malcolm is a guy I look up to at practice," Laurinaitis said. "Sometimes at practice you'll be out there and not really be all into it, you're just trying to get through it, some days like that when you're tired and Malcolm's passion and energy for the game is something I draw from. It's been a great four years seeing the success he's had."

As for the questions about Jenkins' place in Buckeye lore, his head coach had a very strong opinion on that matter.

"There's no question he'll be mentioned in the same breath as the greats – Chris Gamble, Shawn Springs, Nate Clements," Tressel said. "He's deservedly in that group."

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