Before the season Illinois senior wide receiver A.J. Jenkins predicted he was going to have a significant year. So far, he’s been dead on.
Jenkins leads the country with 815 receiving yards and is also among the nation’s best with 46 receptions and seven touchdowns while helping Illinois to a 6-0 start.
Jenkins spoke with ESPNChicago.com this week about his season, the team’s year and more prior to Saturday’s match up against Ohio State.
Q: Is this the type of season you envisioned for yourself?
A:Yeah, when you put in all the hard work you have in the offseason and just prepare yourself. The whole offense is feeling good. It’s not just me. It’s [quarterback] Nate [Scheelhaase.] It’s the line. It’s coach [Paul] Petrino. Obviously, I put in a lot of work in the offseason, so I can have a good year. Hopefully, I keep doing what I’m doing.
Q: How much of what you’ve done is your improvement, and how much of it is Scheelhaase’s growth?
A: Honestly, we have a class together. We kind of built a bond, built a friendship now. Me and coach P’s relationship is a lot closer. Now, we trust each other. When it comes to the game of football, you got to have trust. Once Nate and I had class, we talk more, we chill out more. We got that trust thing going. On the field, he trusts me to make plays. I trust him to make the right reads. I trust him on and off the field.
Q: You’ve been at Illinois for the good and the bad. Does it make this year’s success sweeter?
A: It definitely feels like it was long ago [we struggled.] Last year, we went to our first bowl game. Honestly, we’ve got momentum going into this year. We’ve been through it. We now know how to finish and keep rolling from there. Hopefully, we keep that going on Saturday. I really don’t reflect on the bad times.
Q: You’ve said your comment earlier this season about being the Big Ten’s best wide receiver was taken out of context, but what’s wrong with saying you belong with the cream of the crop in the conference?
A: Me saying that, people took it and ran with, saying I was being disrespectful of all the better receivers in the Big Ten. I wasn’t doing that all. I don’t know if there’s anything wrong with it. I’m trying to be the best player I can be. That’s all I was trying to say.
Q: Do you feel you’re an elite receiver now?
A: I don’t know. I hope I can be one of the best receivers. I’m just out there playing. I’m just doing me. I’m not really worried about anything like that.
Q: Do you think about your NFL prospects?
A: Not at all. I’ve not even thought that far ahead. I’m starting to look ahead to O-State.
Q: Do you think Illinois has received the respect nationally it deserves at this point for being 6-0?
A: I don’t really know. I don’t know what they’re saying. I’m just preparing myself for the game. I don’t know what they’re saying. I don’t know what the media is saying. I don’t feed into all of the ESPN talk or whatever the talk is. I keep focused on what’s really important.
Q: So you don’t read anything?
A:I just don’t like reading stuff like that. If there’s bad stuff, you get sad. It kind of makes a person mad. It can mess up a team’s focus. I just don’t go online and read stuff. I don’t go searching for things. I watch ESPN, but I don’t go searching for things.