Multiple holding calls a game hampered Sterling Jenkins' play along the offensive line in middle school. Whether it was footwork or speed, the now high school junior-to-be said his biggest weakness was not properly blocking the defender coming at him.
Times have changed for the Baldwin High (Pittsburgh) Class of 2015 offensive tackle. It runs in the family, though.
His great uncle, the late Chappie Hill, came to Penn State at a time of change for the program and university. One of the earliest African-American PSU players, the running back left University Park with a degree and a letterman award. Hill has a scholarship named after him from the Great Pittsburgh Chapter of the Penn State Alumni Association.
Like Hill, Jenkins is seeing the times change, too. Gone are the never-ending flags that frequently landed near him. Replacing them are eight verbal scholarship offers, including one from Penn State.
Jenkins will soon trek to Happy Valley. The lineman is not quite ready to decide if he will follow in Hill's footsteps, but he does want to see the campus. And thus, he will visit University Park June 26.
"A lot of people think I get attention because I'm 6-foot-8, 305 pounds, and they probably think I can't move around," Jenkins said. "My coach used to tell me I run like a tight end, and I have a lot of athleticism for my size. I'm not one to play more of a reckless style of football, either. I'm a calm type player. I'm not quick to let you get the best of me, but I have a nasty streak."
Coming from a heavy Pittbackground — his mother, father, an aunt and grandfather all went to the university — Jenkins has his grandmother singing State's praises. Part of it stems from her brother's experience at the school, the rest "because she just likes it."
She likes it because she valued her brother's opinion, and the two were close, Jenkins said. The prospect speaks mostly with running backs coach Charles London, and he's already received a sense that he cares for his players, while also "seeming like a cool guy."
Jenkins added that his relationship with the coaches at his college home will be a vital part of his decision-making process, and with good reason. The lineman says ever since his youth, he has always kept a tight bond with the men who lead him from the sideline, and that hasn't changed at Baldwin. There, he talks and texts with his coaches frequently, always seeking their advice on how he can improve on and off the field.
He gets the sense Penn State's staff care about his as a player and student, too.
"Coach London said, ‘Hey, I want you to come up to see campus, and we want you to meet some of our professors in the English department,' " Jenkins said. "I want to be an English professor, so that meant a lot to me. It's how I knew he cares about his players.
"He said he wants me to talk to Coach [Bill] O'Brien and see the facilities, and I hear Penn State has some of the best facilities in the nation. If they do, that's something I'll definitely consider, and it'll be cool to check out."
Playing mostly tackle in high school, Jenkins said the most stressful part of the recruiting process is when coaches come watch him perform. The phone calls and messages he can deal with, but a sense of nervousness still encompasses him every time a man in college apparel comes to watch him.
Whether it's present or not, it hasn't reflected in the view of many of them. Along with Pitt and Penn State, Arizona, Michigan, Ohio State, Temple, Virginia and West Virginia have also extended offers. He has trips planned to Michigan and Pitt along with Penn State so far, though more may be added.
"They gave me a good vibe," he said of Pitt. "They are close to home, and it'd be like going to places I went to as a kid. I would feel at home, and it could be like a family thing.
"When I went to Chicago [for a recruiting service camp] I was on the plane with a Michigan commit, and he and his dad really liked it," he said of the Wolverines. "I want to see why they like it so much, and check out their facilities. They were one of the earliest people to start recruiting me, so I want to see what they're about."
Academics will be a key factor in his decision, Jenkins said, but it's a decision that he's in no rush to make. Instead, he'll take plenty of visits over the next couple of years, and make a decision when it feels right.
He'll also start fully gearing up for Baldwin's 2013 season. With the fundamentals down pat, he hopes it can be his best season yet. He said a lot of that will come from coaching.
"I don't want to work with someone I don't think is a good person. I want someone that will be a teacher first, and also be a coach," Jenkins said. "My coach before [who is no longer a Baldwin assistant] was really able to put all his time into helping me, and that's really important to me.
"I take pride in my coach being able to do that, and I'd like it to continue in the future."