Illini Receiver A.J. Jenkins: Probably Best WR Weapon in Big Ten


Earlier this college football season, University of Illinois senior wide receiver A.J. Jenkins made some comments that proclaimed himself the best wide receiver in the Big Ten.

He has since backed off from those remarks, and now maintains a more standard, PR-friendly, humble and some could say vanilla manner in his on-the-record comments to the media. But his play on the field (third in the nation, first in the Big Ten in receiving yards) is making a loud and powerful statement.

Jenkins earned a pair of weekly honors following his record-breaking performance in Illinois’ 38-35 comeback win over Northwestern on Saturday. Jenkins was named co-Big Ten Offensive Player of the Week and co-National Wide Receiver of the Week after helping the Illini remain undefeated.

Jenkins helped Illinois overcome a 28-10 second half deficit by hauling in a career-high 12 catches for a school-record 268 yards and a school record-tying three touchdowns. The 268 yards rank as the third-most receiving yards in a Big Ten game and the fourth-best mark in all games in Big Ten history. It also shatters the previous UI single-game receiving yardage record of 208, which was set in 1984  by two-time All-American and College Football Hall of Famer David Williams (also set versus Northwestern),

 Jenkins also had 60 kick return yards, giving him 328 all-purpose yards on the day, which is the third-highest single-game total in school history behind only Red Grange’s UI-record 402 yards against Michigan in 1924 and Mikel Leshoure’s 341 yards against Northwestern last season.

Which means the Northwestern defense has been responsible for the #1 individual rushing day, and #1 and #2 receiving days in Illini football history.

NU safety Brian Peters was impressed.

“He’s an athletic kid, you know, youhave got to give him his props, but we beat ourselves in the secondary. We just have to do our jobs and execute, especially in the second half and fourth quarter.”

Jenkins talked about his big day on Saturday:

“I don’t get frustrated if I get the ball or not. As long as we win games, if I have no catches, it doesn’t matter. From last year, when Mikel [Leshoure] had 300 yards rushing, so they tried to pack it in, so we already knew we had to beat them deep this year, and that’s what we did…All I did was catch the ball. I don’t think my job was that big, it’s just catching the ball. Nate had to stay in the pocket and throw on the move. The [offensive] line was getting me open. There is a lot more to the puzzle than me.”

Jenkins has shown an amazing ability to both complete a route and re-adjust to the ball on Saturday. He has a knack for corralling anything close to his area that will get NFL scouts saying his name a lot.

Confidence is an essential part to Jenkins’ game, especially because his role model is the legendary Michael Irvin.

“His ego, and the way he carried himself, always wanting the ball,” Jenkins responded when I asked about his role model receiver. And Jenkins’ QB, Nathan Scheelhaase, is well aware of Jenkins’ bravado.

“He’s a confident player, he loves the competition and is willing to go up against any DB in the country I promise you that, so that’s we like throwing to him,” Scheelhaase said of Jenkins.

Scheelhaase threw for a career-best 391 yards. 12 of his 21 completions went to Jenkins.

I actually think A.J. should keep up the brash talk and behavior- that’s what separates a lot of great receivers from good ones. It’s the one position in the league where the Keyshawn Johnson “just give me the damn ball mentality” is truly most productive.

Paul M. Banks is CEO of The Sports, an official Google News site that generates millions of unique visitors. He’s also a regular contributor to Chicago Now, Walter, Yardbarker, and Fox Sports

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