You don't have to tell Brian Jenkins how big the MEAC/SWAC Challenge is for his Bethune-Cookman Wildcats. Jenkins, the head coach, took the team to the classic HBCU game last year -- when the Wildcats manhandled Prairie View A&M, 63-14, in an impressive performance to open the season.
In the 2012 installment of the MEAC/SWAC Challenge presented by Disney -- taking place at the Citrus Bowl in Orlando, Fla., on Sept. 2 -- Bethune-Cookman will again represent the MEAC, this time going up against Alabama State from the SWAC.
"It's going to be a tremendous game," says Jenkins. "Alabama State is a championship-caliber team. We're happy and thankful to be invited back to play in this venue. It puts you on the national stage, and that's good for your program."
Jenkins knows a thing or two about the big stage. Entering his third season as Bethune-Cookman's coach, the Ft. Lauderdale native led the team to a 10-2 record in 2010, while sharing the MEAC championship and grabbing a spot in the NCAA Football Championship Subdivision (FCS) playoffs. Last season, the Wildcats finished in second place behind MEAC champion Norfolk State with an 8-3 mark.
Jenkins came to Bethune-Cookman's Daytona Beach campus from Rutgers in the Big East Conference, where he was a wide receivers coach under Greg Schiano, now the head coach of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
"It was a tremendous opportunity I had to work under Greg Schiano," says Jenkins, who served as running backs coach and special team's coordinator at Louisiana-Lafayette for seven seasons prior to his one season at Rutgers. "He had a big impact on me as a coach. I feel if I had not worked for him, I would not have been prepared for this job. He helped prepare me in every aspect."
Now with his own coaching staff to manage and mold, Jenkins is quick to share the credit for his team's success. "I've been blessed to have a good coaching staff," says Jenkins, a 1993 graduate from the University of Cincinnati where he earned bachelor's degree in Social Work.
"I've also had some great players at Bethune-Cookman who have bought into what we're trying to do on and off the field."
The MEAC/SWAC Challenge, historically, has been a platform for many players over the years with NFL aspirations. The Wildcats have three players from last year's team who signed as undrafted NFL free agents: Ryan Lewis signed with the Miami Dolphins, Ryan Davis signed with the Jacksonville Jaguars and Jean Fanor inked a contract with the Kansas City Chiefs.
Terrance Hackney, an offensive tackle who received All-American honorable mention honors from Beyond Sports Network, is one such player on NFL scouting watch lists. But Jenkins knows that the coaches, too, are also on the radar.
"You got good, solid coaches in this conference," Jenkins says. "You look at Joe Taylor [from Florida A&M], and the things he's done over time with guys graduating and playing in the NFL. Buddy Pough is doing the same thing at South Carolina State. Donald Hill-Eley is doing it at Morgan State."
With an overall 18-5 record heading into a new season, one in which B-CU will be a team to beat in the MEAC, Jenkins knows all eyes will be on his program as well.
"We know a lot of people will be watching us," said Jenkins, whose Wildcats are looking to be the first team to win back-to-back MEAC/SWAC Challenge championships. "We're going to receive national attention from this game. It's a big one to start the season. It's a game that's going to help us play at a high level."