By CHRIS WILSON
He’s expected to run faster than a speeding bullet, to reach the end zone from the one-yard line in a single bound, but underneath the blue-and-white suit, Ronney Jenkins, BYU’s starting tailback, is just one of the guys.
“He’s our spark plug on offense,” said Kevin Feterik, BYU’s starting quarterback. Jenkins will be expected to do it all on offense, Feterik said. In addition to his running duties, Jenkins will also have to catch passes as well, he said.
BYU head football coach LaVell Edwards has no worries about Jenkins’ ability to both run and catch the football, though. Jenkins rushed for 733 yards and 11 touchdowns as a freshman in 1996. He also caught 14 passes for three scores and returned a number of kickoffs for significant gains during his first season as a collegiate athlete.
“To have that kind of speed and ability he’s definitely a game breaker, a threat,” Edwards said.
But even while superhuman things are expected from the 1996 Western Athletic Conference Freshman of the Year and holder of the national high school single-game rushing record, 619 yards and seven touchdowns, away from the football field and out the uniform, Jenkins has a normal life. Yes, even football players are human.
Jenkins grew up close to the University of Southern California, and always dreamed of playing football for the Trojans. His football career began in the Pop Warner football league where he played running back for the first time.
Jenkins said the speed, agility, quick thinking and catching ability required by the position appealed to him.
“You get the ball and just do so many things so people can’t stop you,” he said.
By the time Jenkins entered high school his family had moved to Oxnard. His freshman year in high school, Jenkins was relegated to receiving duties because the coaches thought he was too small to play in the backfield.
Jenkins’ talents and passions, however, were focused more on running with the ball than catching, and his sophomore year he was lining up behind the quarterback.
“I think some of the things I have you can’t work on — it’s just natural,” Jenkins said. “I’ve been blessed with a lot of things; I’ve been blessed with the talent to play football.”
Life wasn’t always as easy for Jenkins as juking a defender on the football field. He grew up in an area where all of his friends and even some of his family were involved in gangs. He said fighting and other gang activities were a normal part of his high school experience.
When Jenkins found out that he could qualify for a scholarship, attend a university and play football, he decided stay away from the violence that surrounded him.
“It’s kind of hard, but as long as you’ve got a plan and you know what you want to do — you can do it,” Jenkins said.
Jenkins’ world drastically began to change when he came to BYU on his recruiting trip. He said that he felt comfortable leaving Los Angeles for the quiet environment of Provo. Jenkins’ grandma also played a big role in his decision to abandon his life-long dream of playing at University of Southern California.
“My grandma didn’t want me to stay in the city just for the fact that things happen in big cities,” he said. “Anything can happen in Los Angeles, whether you’re an athlete or whether you’re anybody.”
After sitting out all of the 1996 season, Jenkins said he’s excited to be playing again this season. Although great things are expected of him by coaches and fans alike, he said that people should remember he’s just an ordinary guy.
“I know I come from a different place, but I’m not much different from everybody else. I make mistakes; I do good things,” Jenkins said.