The question of where Antonio Jenkins will be used the most on the Arkansas-Pine Bluff defense has been answered.
Jenkins responded in a big way for his first career start on defense last Saturday, leading the Golden Lions with 14 tackles (six solo) at McNeese State from the linebacker position. The redshirt sophomore split time between linebacker and strong safety during preseason camp.
There’s a reason Jenkins found his groove, although McNeese State dominated for a 58-14 victory.
“It was just to not give up on my team and have my team’s back,” Jenkins said. “It’s just the fact that I’m a football player with a lot of heart. I don’t quit. I’m a sore loser.”
Jenkins’ performance was especially impressive for his season debut. He was one of at least 13 Golden Lions who were not cleared to play at Arkansas State, most of them for reasons still unknown.
In fact, he hadn’t seen any time on defense in his first two years at UAPB. He redshirted in 2011 and only played on special teams last season.
It gave him a chance to learn from a trio of linebackers who made 100 or more tackles in a season — 2012 senior Bill Ross and current seniors Jer-ryan Harris and Xavier Lofton.
“From Bill, from Twin (Harris), from Xavier, I learned that you have to have great technique and discipline,” Jenkins said. “Without that, you can mess yourself up. The work ethic from Bill Ross — definitely from Bill — and with Twin as my mentor for this year, he just pushes me, makes me keep my head up even when it’s not going my way.”
Jenkins went into the McNeese State game listed as the second-string strong safety behind Kevin Rucker Jr. But injury slowed down Lofton, and Jenkins was moved to strong-side linebacker.
“Xavier’s knee was bothering him a little bit, so we moved him down, and the kid played pretty good, running to the football and making lots of tackles,” UAPB coach Monte Coleman said.
And it was after the game that Jenkins realized linebacker is where he belongs on a full-time basis.
“I know he’s tough enough to come down into the box, and I think he proved it last Saturday,” Coleman said.
While McNeese State racked up 263 yards and six touchdowns rushing on UAPB, Jenkins is looking forward to his next challenge this Saturday against Alabama State, where he’ll match up with reigning SWAC Co-Offensive Player of the Week Isaiah Crowell. The former Georgia standout had a career-high of 179 yards in last Saturday’s loss to Jackson State.
“I plan on having him against me, head-to-head,” Jenkins said. “That’s just like high school, with all the running backs. I plan on coming for him, giving him all I’ve got. He’s going to have to take my helmet off for me to come out the game.”
Will UAPB have a full team?
Coleman said he should know today who will be available to play against Alabama State. Some of his players are awaiting clearance from the NCAA to play for the first time this season, including running backs Justin Billings and defensive ends Damien Lee and Sean Robison. Coleman confirmed running back Aaron Lagrone will not be available Saturday.
Coleman estimated he had 57 players available against McNeese State, which is short of the maximum of 63 who can travel for a game under NCAA rules. The latest UAPB roster included 71 players.
Coleman responds to Williams’ firing
Despite Grambling State’s recent struggles, the Wednesday firing of its head coach sent shockwaves across the SWAC.
Doug Williams, who starred at quarterback at Grambling in the 1970s, was in the third year of his second stint at the helm when he was let go. He replaced the legendary Eddie Robinson after the 1997 season and coached the Tigers for six years, winning three SWAC titles in that span.
Grambling State (0-2) has lost 12 of 13 games since winning the 2011 SWAC title under Williams.
“I don’t know the whole situation why Doug (was let go),” said Coleman, who played with Williams on the Super Bowl-winning Washington Redskins of the 1987 season. “He’s a great coach, a great guy. He’s a definite friend of mine, and the only thing I can comment on is that basically my prayers go out to him and his family.
Coleman said he has not yet reached out to Williams.
“I’m trying to let it sit in with him before I do reach out to him, but I will reach out to him over the next week,” Coleman said.
Former UAPB assistant George Ragsdale, who was named interim head coach, told the News-Star of Monroe, La., that Williams’ son D.J. will remain starting quarterback for Saturday’s Missouri Classic against Lincoln (Mo.) in Kansas City.
Athletic department reminds fans of start time
Saturday’s home opener for the UAPB football team will have an unusual start time.
The UAPB athletic department reminds those planning to attend that the game against Alabama State is set for a 4 p.m. kickoff at Golden Lion Stadium. The time is set to accommodate ESPN3.com’s live webcast of the game, the second time the website has broadcast the Lions this season.
The game, which also can be heard live on KUAP-FM 89.7, will also air on a tape-delay basis at 9:30 p.m. Saturday on ESPNU.
The Sept. 21 Alcorn State game is set for a 6 p.m. kickoff at Golden Lion Stadium. That is a usual start time for UAPB home games early in the fall.
— I.C. Murrell