For those of us who have had the opportunity to speak with BCU’s head football coach, Brian Jenkins, you know the experience is very much akin to attending a Sunday morning church service in the black community. At some point in the engagement you are likely to laugh, you will certainly feel the intensity of the moment, some may even ask for repentance; but almost everyone is assured of feeling better about the experience afterwards.
Such was the case for me yesterday when Coach Jenkins graciously agreed to sit down with Bradford Gillens of the Orlando Examiner and myself for a thorough conversation. The third year head coach touched on topics such as his team’s performance in the first half of the season, the success of some of the MEAC’s newest coaches, his wife’s assertions that he has mental problems, and his affinity for the world renown Marching Wildcats (more affectionately known as The Pride).
If you would coach, assess your team’s performance in the first half of the season.
I am a perfectionist so I am pleased but never satisfied. We didn’t play a complete football game until the A&T game. In the other games we had so many miscues, and different assignment errors as well as a lot of dumb penalties. Our operation was not very good at times, but in some cases it was good enough to get us the victory.
On the positive side, one thing that I have felt good about all year is the conditioning of our team. Another thing is the fight of our team. I think that they have exemplified that from the first play of the first game so I do know that is there. What has decreased our grade to a C or C+ is all of those other things that I previously mentioned. If we can clean up and continue to improve, we can definitely get to an A ”.
Your team is positioned atop the conference standings and you are in complete control of your destiny. Are there any areas of concerns that you feel need to be addressed in the 2nd half of the season to ensure this team fully meets the expectations that you have for them going forward?
We need to continue to execute well. That’s always an area that you have to be sound and solid. We have to tackle well. The game is won with good tackling and good blocking. We just have to continue to improve and develop as a whole”.
I have a few numbers for you coach: 7, 0, 0, 16, and 3; that’s the number of points your defense has surrendered in the 2nd half of games against FCS competition this year. It seems that once they settle in they have been lights out.
That’s a good thing. It shows you that down the stretch we’re conditioned and we’re mentally focused to continue to execute at a high level and finish things out. But if you look on the flip side at the points given up in the first two quarters, it demonstrates why we need to execute better. If we can have that same urge, effort and execution in the first half of games then automatically we become a better football team”.
There are a host of young players on the defensive side of the ball. Do you feel this unit is ready to take the leap from being very good in the second half of games to being dominant throughout the entire contest?
“I don’t like to get caught up in the ‘we’re young argument’. These guys have been playing football since they were 8 years old and it’s the same game. You put your helmet on, you put your shoulder pads on and you go out there and you have to tackle, execute, and stop your opponent. I think what comes with being young is that sometimes our guys don’t execute within the scheme. But when we settle down and they start operating in the scheme they are able to see what we can do. I think if we continue to execute within the scheme then we are ready to propel forward and start being a dominant defense”.
Through the first half of the season, your Wildcats have the #1 rushing offense in the conference and the 2nd to last passing offense, a stark contrast to your inaugural season when your offense was coined the “Speedway O.” Is it more of a situation where you are letting the talent you have dictate how you run the offense, or has it just been a concerted effort to become a primarily run first team?
“You have to do what’s necessary to win. We’re letting our talent take over and that’s a plus to any football team. I don’t get caught up in being #1 in passing or #1 in running. The main thing that we have to do is be consistent in execution in order to win. People know we can throw the ball and we have proven that. We will continue to do whatever is necessary to win”.
Coach there are many overlooked aspects of a quality football team. For instance, I am sure that both Jackie Wilson and Brock Waters would prefer to be on the field receiving snaps from Center; however, you can see those guys on the sidelines giving pointers to Quentin Williams and they have both seemed to willingly take up a mentor position with your young quarterback. Is this part of that developing men and developing character aspect of your job that you hold so dearly?
“Absolutely! 100%! I want two things from my players: (1) I want players who are trying to find a way in and not trying to find a way out; and (2) I want players that are all in.
If you don’t have those two characteristics then you cannot play for me. Right now, those guys are finding a way into the game and that’s by helping each other. When Jackie was on the field it was Q and Brodrick. When Brodrick was on the field it was Jackie and Q being his eyes and ears. They are all in it together. They all train together and they receive the same amount of reps in practice. They are all focus and they are finding a way to contribute to the team. That is all a part of developing men and developing character and it is very much a part of our program”.
And what about the play of Quentin Williams, last week he was named as the MEAC Offensive POTW. He seems to really be growing right before our eyes?
“Quentin is definitely growing just like Matt (Johnson) grew when he was here and Jackie grew last year when he had his time. I always tell our guys that before growth takes place, you have to humble yourself and realize who you are. Once you do that you open yourself up to being developed. That’s what Quentin has done. He came in with all of these accolades but I told him that he had to strip himself of being “Q” the big time high school quarterback and just be Quentin and develop Quentin as a person. That will make Q the quarterback that you want to be.
Let me tell you about Quentin. Everybody was telling him how well he played on Saturday (against NCA&T). He had our video guy make cutups of all of his bad plays and he was evaluating those bad plays on Sunday much more intently then what he did well. When we had our questions and answers session on Sunday and asked him what could you do to improve yourself, he said coach I made 8 bad plays and I have 8 coaching points that I need to correct. That goes to show you how he’s open to development and correction and it shows you the type of leadership that we’re getting from Quentin and all of our quarterbacks”.
For the second time in 3 years, your team leads the nation in turnover differential. That doesn’t just happen by accident does it?
“I learned from Greg Schiano that trained behavior becomes instinct. We train our guys 7 days a week all year long on security and security of the program. They have taken to it and the results have shown. It’s something that we drill every day. I can’t tell you everything that we do because I would be giving parts of my program away and I can’t do that. I will tell you that we do some mental drills and exercises. Our coaching staff believes in the drills and philosophies even though some of them tell me that I am a different type of guy and kind of out there but the philosophies work and produce results. So it’s not just the players that are making this happen. My coaching staff has also bought in and they are teaching the things that I asked of them. It’s a total program effort”.
You have been singing the praises of Coach Harrell at Howard, Coach Broadway at North Carolina A&T, and Coach Frazier at North Carolina Central to anyone who would listen. I guess it is not a surprise to you to see their teams sitting near the top of the conference standings huh?
“No It’s not. I knew when those men were hired a change would take place. No disrespect to anyone else but those are true men. Coach Kerm at Delaware State is another one. These men are true competitors who have a drive to master their craft and prepare a high level football team so it doesn’t surprise me at all.
Look at Coach Frazier’s record at Prairie View. He is proven by the results that he got at Prairie View. Coach Flea has been prepared by some very good coaches. He called me and asked me for some advice when he first got the job and we spoke at length. He doesn’t have an ego and he understands his role and he takes it very seriously. Coach Broadway is a vet and he’s been through this before. He’s been through challenging times but he’s long lasting and he has always come out on top. Coach Kerm is another solid individual. He took his success from Winston-Salem to Delaware State. He implemented his system and he has been patient. All of these guys are good ball coaches and good men and no one should be surprise that they are having the success that they are having”.
Are you surprised to see perennial power SCSU and last year’s champ NSU struggle to the degree that they have?
“There is so much parity in the league I wouldn’t say that they are struggling. Norfolk loss one ball game off of a flag. Right now, their records don’t match their coaching and for whatever reason, they haven’t caught their rhythm or hit their stride. There is not a coach in the league who works to finish second. Everyone wants to finish first but someone has to lose. Those are still good football teams but their records just don’t show it”.
Interestingly enough, you kind of called this whole thing back in July. At the MEAC Press Luncheon you were quoted as saying, in regards to NSU being selected to repeat as conference champions, “If all that mattered, just give out the trophy now to who they picked first and why play the games? I don’t pay any attention to that and it doesn’t really matter to me.” Should we expect to see you on ESPN College Gameday alongside Lee Corso and Kirk Herbstreit once your coaching days are done?
“We will see. I am going to be honest, that is something that I am interested in and a lot of people have asked me about that. It is something that draws and interests me and we’ll see many years from now if God pushes me that way. When I made that statement though, it wasn’t because Norfolk was picked to win. You still have to get in the ring, put on the gloves and fight. That is just a strong belief that was instilled in me by my dad. I also said that because when I looked around that room, I saw a good group of coaches who were looking forward to competing. It was nothing against Norfolk State, but you have to play the game”.
Now I know it’s early and there’s a lot of football left to be played but, as I’m sure you know, Tennessee State is 7-0 and looks poised for a playoff run if they continue their string of success. Considering you make no bones about the fact that you hate to lose, how special would it be for you to meet the Tigers again in the FCS Playoffs?
Coach Rod Reed is doing an exceptional job at Tennessee State. Everybody counted him out and was ready to push him out of the door. He’s a quiet assassin and his mind is always working. They came up here and kicked our tails. They have proven that they are one of the best teams in the nation. Hopefully they don’t get slighted like some other teams have been slighted in the past. If that road comes to show, that means that we were able to stay focus and be in that position (to make the playoffs). I am sure that it will be good and it will be challenging”.
I watched a Youtube clip of the Marching Wildcats at South Carolina State and somewhere near the end of the clip I saw a figure that looked a lot like you grooving in front of the band. I know sometimes you can’t remember last week’s game, but does that ring a bell at all?
“(Guilty Laugh) Yeah it does. We have a closeness with our band that is tremendous. Donovan Wells and his staff does a tremendous job with the band. Our band gives a valiant effort to do the things to get us going. I feel like our football team is a part of the band and the band is a part of our team. I go down and do things like that with the band to show them that I appreciate their professionalism, their high productivity, their consistency, their detail, I appreciate all of that. There are times that I go over and just watch their practices and see how in to it they are and how focus they are to put on a good show and represent us. So in return we have to make sure that we do the necessary things to represent them because they deserve to be represented at a high level. So yes you did. I went down there and cut loose for about 15 seconds, but that was just to show the band my appreciation for all that they do for our team and our university.
And let me say this, people can talk all they want about Bethune-Cookman football, but we know the lead ship here at Bethune-Cookman is the Bethune-Cookman Band. And I have no problem with that because it give me an opportunity to have my program a part of greatness and our band is greatness. I really look forward to having a chance to interact with them and I thank Mr. Wells for opening up the door and allowing our team to have that type of interaction with the band.
There is a mutual respect between me and Donovan Wells and I tell people this all of the time. Donovan Wells is Coach Jenkins in charge of the band and Coach Jenkins is Donovan Wells in charge of the football team because we’re one and the same. We’re very aggressive, we’re very detailed, we’re very serious about our craft, and we’re very demanding. Sometimes I go and watch this guy in practice and preparation and I say this guy should be a football coach. I have a very high level of respect for him because of the way he shows up every day and do his job.
He knows that I honor him and I honor the band and he supports and honor our team. We’re two men who have a very high level or respect for one another. If Donovan sees one of my guys out of line he jumps right in them and I do the same thing to the band members”.
Coach do you want to give us any hints on what you’ll be performing (with the band) after the game this Saturday?
“(Laughs) I wish I knew. I don’t even know what I am going to do when I hang up this phone today.
I heard the other day and I was trying to figure out if that was me. But I heard that insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results. My wife keeps telling me that I have mental problems. I have been trying to deny it but I don’t know (anymore). She tells me you do the same thing seven days a week and she says that you have a plan for Monday through Sunday of what you will eat, from the time that you will eat, you have everything scheduled. Yet you expect different results out of me when it comes to cooking. That just lets you know what I deal with every day. I guess that means that I am insane. Hey but if it works for me then I guess I am okay with being insane”.
Asheton Jordan, BCU, BCU 2011, BCU Football, Bethune, Bethune-Cookman, Brian Jenkins, Buddy Pough, Coach Brian Jenkins, Cookman, Derrick Wiley, Harold Love, Jamarr Robinson, MEAC, Patrick Washington, SCSU, South Carolina State, Wildcats
Frazier versus Ali; that’s the way Coach Brian Jenkins described this weekend’s conference showdown with powerhouse South Carolina State. The two squads enter the contest as the #1 and #2 ranked teams in the Sheridan Broadcasting Network’s Black College Football Poll. The winner of this heavyweight matchup will emerge as the clear frontrunner to this year’s MEAC crown. The loser will find themselves “scoreboard watching” and wishing for help over the weeks to come.
Brian Jenkins’ club ended SCSU’s 21-game conference win streak last year and was the first MEAC squad to blank the Bulldogs at home in over 30 years.
Previewing the Dogs
Buddy Pough’s Bulldogs have grown unaccustomed with losing over recent years. Take last week’s defeat against Central Michigan (CMU) as an example. SCSU lost by 15 points, on the road against an FBS opponent. Most FCS schools would consider that a good showing; but not Bulldog fans. Many members of the “Dog pound” believe South Carolina State was good enough to win that game and Brian Jenkins tends to agree. In his weekly teleconference, Coach Jenkins stated that SCSU was three makeable plays away from pulling off the upset against CMU.
SCSU boasts one of the best defenses in FCS football (2nd in total defense in 2010). The Bulldog defense held CMU to 256 yards of total offense and 21 points last week. By comparison, BCU’s offense produced nearly double the yardage output (500 yards) and triple the points scored (63) against Prairie View in the MEAC/SWAC Challenge. South Carolina State has at least one all-conference performer at all three levels of their defense (Patrick Washington-DL, Donovan Richard-LB, Dominique Ellis-DB). Washington is an extremely athletic, havoc causing defensive lineman. His style of play is very similar to that of BCU defensive end, Ryan Davis. The Wildcat offense must account for Washington in both the running and passing game. Donovan Richard is an above average linebacker who possess great range and speed. He recorded 10 tackles (1 tackle for a loss) in last week’s defeat at CMU.
On the offensive side of the ball, Derrick Wiley is a mobile quarterback who struggled with his accuracy a week ago. Wiley and the Bulldogs are without the services of wide receiver Lennel Elmore who is ineligible due to grades. Elmore led the Bulldogs in receiving and was an All-MEAC performer a year ago. The Dogs will depend upon Asheton Jordan (RB) and the running game to carry the load until the passing game gets on track. Jordan is a physical runner with decent speed. He’ll lineup behind an offensive line that featured four new starters and struggled to establish the line of scrimmage last week against CMU.
Blake Erickson is the place kicker and he gives the Bulldogs a decided advantage in the kicking game.
A Closer Look at the Wildcats
In spite BCU’s 49 point victory to open the season, there is still much room for improvement. QB, Jamarr Robinson racked up 281 yards of offense (251 passing and 30 rushing) and earned MVP honors at last week’s MEAC/SWAC Challenge. However, Robinson appeared to miss on a few reads in the passing game and was errant on several throws. The Wildcats also committed far too many penalties last week (12 penalties for 132 yards).
On a positive note, BCU’s offensive and defensive fronts dominated the line of scrimmage. Particularly impressive was the play of defensive tackles Harold Love, Jameil Farrington, and Lavon McCoy. Another impressive sight from last week’s contest was the quality of depth displayed by the Wildcats. Coach Jenkins seemingly rotated 3 or 4 players on every play, yet there was no noticeable drop off in talent.
Fighting like Cats and Dogs
Bethune’s offense versus South Carolina State’s defense is strength against strength. The outcome of this game will likely depend upon the play of the other units. Can the Bulldog offense effectively run the ball and limit the possessions of BCU’s high-powered offense? Will the Wildcat’s opportunistic defense force turnovers (6 takeaways last week) and short field situations? Which squad will ascend as the top team in black college football? We’ll have our answers to these questions when this highly anticipated matchup kickoff at 4:00, Saturday, September 10th at Municipal Stadium.
| Interesting Notes
Last 10 contests in the series—
Recent Memorable Matchups —
‘Do you remember,
the 21st night of September.
Love was changing the minds of pretenders,
while chasing the clouds away.’
The funky lyrics from Earth, Wind, and Fire seem apropos for the four teams predicted to finish atop the MEAC football standings in 2011. Most sports fans understand the correlation between momentum and confidence and winning and losing. They also understand that winning (and losing) can be as contagious as a funk band’s groovy beats. South Carolina State, Bethune-Cookman, Florida A&M, and Hampton may find it difficult to establish early season momentum as they all experience their toughest stretch of games at the kickoff of the 2011 campaign. By the end of September, the league crown could be out of reach for one or more of these expected contenders.
South Carolina State has the most difficult opening stretch of games. The Bulldogs will be double-digit underdogs to FBS opponents Central Michigan (9/1) and Indiana (9/17). Nestled between the two FBS contests is a matchup against Bethune-Cookman. Buddy Pough’s Bulldogs are 29-1 vs. HBCU’s over the past three seasons. The Wildcats handed the Bulldogs their lone HBCU defeat last year in Orangeburg. SCSU conclude the month with a matchup versus new look and hopeful contender Delaware State.
The Wildcats of Bethune-Cookman opened last season with one-sided victories against undermanned Edward Waters and overmatched Savannah State. This year’s early season competition is much tougher for Brian Jenkins’ squad. The Wildcats will look to extend the MEAC’s 4-2 record in the MEAC/SWAC Challenge when they face SWAC power Prairie View A&M on the 4th. BCU finish their September schedule at home with contests against SCSU (9/10) and Hampton (9/22).
Like Bethune, Hampton kickoff their 2011 campaign versus a SWAC Opponent. Hampton and Alabama A&M square off on September 3rd in the Chicago Football Classic. The Pirates next three opponents, FAMU (9/8), Old Dominion (9/17), and BCU (9/24), were 3-0 versus Donovan Rose’s team in 2010.
Florida A&M face perhaps the easiest opening schedule of the top four teams from a year ago. Division II Ft. Valley State visits Tallahassee on September 3rd. FAMU will have a quick turnaround and play a Thursday night/ESPNU contest against Hampton on September 8th. Big East title contender University of South Florida host Joe Taylor’s squad in Tampa on the 17th. The Rattlers end the month against one of their old nemesis, Southern University (9/24). FAMU should be favored over SU, but as the saying goes: “you can throw out all of the records in a rivalry game”.
The top-heavy schedule of the MEAC’s elite may leave the door open for other squads looking to contend. Morgan State can thank the schedule makers for leaving FAMU and SCSU off of their schedule. Unlike the teams mentioned above, the Bears face their toughest stretch of games at the end of the season. Norfolk State avoids FAMU this year and may have time to build confidence before facing South Carolina State, Delaware State, Hampton, and Bethune in the month of October.
The second full week of the season (the week ending Saturday, September 10th) may be the most pivotal in the race for conference supremacy. Hampton host FAMU on Thursday (9/8) and SCSU travels to Daytona Beach to face BCU on Saturday (09/10). These early season matchups will certainly cause a lot of “scoreboard watching” and should help quickly weed out the pretenders. By the month’s end, some expected contenders may have their hopes dashed while others may be humming “ba-de-ya” and dancing in September.