Malcolm Jenkins had dreams about playing in the NFL, just as many other little kids did. He never really believed he'd be so close to making them come true.
Growing up in what he called a "concrete jungle" in New
Jersey, Jenkins rarely even had a serious thought about college
football, much less the pros. Just getting noticed by Ohio State
was a huge first step.
"A lot of guys don't get recruited. We just got on the map when
I came out of high school," Jenkins said Monday night before being
recognized with the Thorpe Award as the top college defensive back.
"To think of a scholarship was just like, `Oh, my God. You've
got to be like the best in the nation to get a scholarship.' Nobody
really thinks of themselves like that that early. I was blessed
enough to get that opportunity and make the best of it."
After four years and two BCS championship game appearances with
the Buckeyes, Jenkins' recognition by the Thorpe Award committee is
being mirrored by many NFL draft experts who expect him to be the
first cornerback taken in April.
"I've heard a lot of things. I try to keep my face out of the
media and just focus on my training and just focus on what I need
to do," Jenkins said. "It's right there, it's right around the
corner, and I'm excited to see where it's going to take me and see
what new chapters life opens."
And as Jenkins looks around at the other players in his draft
class, he has to take some Jersey pride. Georgia tailback Knowshon
Moreno, Virginia offensive tackle Eugene Monroe, Iowa running back
Shonn Greene and Southern Cal linebacker Nick Cushing are all from
New Jersey, too, and all projected as first-round draft picks.
"We've got a lot of good players out of Jersey but we all
disperse all over the place, so you never really hear about it,"
The Thorpe Award brought him to Oklahoma City for the first
time, where he picked out a scarlet-and-gray tuxedo to wear to the
formal reception along with a pair of dark grey cowboy boots with
red accents. He's only the second Ohio State player among the
award's 23 past winners.
"I always looked at Antoine Winfield just because he played at
Ohio State, and what he did at Ohio State was always something I
tried to measure myself from," Jenkins said, standing in a hallway
decorated with pictures of past winners including Winfield, Deion
Sanders and Charles Woodson.
"Then to look at all the rest of these guys, it's just amazing
and extremely humbling for me just to be able to be mentioned in
the same breath with these guys."
After being a semifinalist last year, Jenkins made the Thorpe
Award his main individual goal for this season. He had three
interceptions to push his career total to 11, and beat fellow
finalists Eric Berry of Tennessee and Taylor Mays of Southern
"He's put so much work into this, so much heart into it," said
Taver Johnson, Jenkins' cornerbacks coach. "He would say first and
foremost that he wouldn't be here without his teammates. We're
truly going to miss him."
Johnson, who was hired at Ohio State in March of 2007, said he
knew immediately that he had a special player in Jenkins.
"No one was really around. It was the offseason, and he was in
there watching film," Johnson said. "That showed me right there
the type of ambition and the type of young man that this guy is."
Jenkins now finds himself in a fraternity that includes NFL
superstars and Super Bowl champions, and he's mere months away from reaching what he once thought was an unattainable dream.
"Just to be able to say I was the best in the nation at one
point in time, to be able to permanently write my name in the books
is just something that I wanted to do," Jenkins said. "I always
strive for the top, and there's no other way to do it."