After five seasons with the New Orleans Saints, former Ohio State cornerback Malcolm Jenkins signed a three-year, $16.25 million contract to play for the Philadelphia Eagles. At only 26-years-old, the Eagles hope that Jenkins is the long-term, productive player that their secondary has lacked since Brian Dawkins left town. The 14th overall pick in the 2009 NFL Draft, Jenkins was drafted as a cornerback, but switched to safety shortly thereafter. A two-time defensive captain, Jenkins started 57 games at safety, winning Super Bowl XLIV as a rookie. Shortly before the free agency frenzy began, Jenkins sat down with us to discuss his career, as well as his ventures off the field.
What has been the toughest adjustment that you have had to make from the college ranks to professional football?
I think the toughest adjustment is your expectations. I won the Jim Thorpe Award, so I was the best defensive back in college. Then, you get to the NFL and are playing with the best of the best, so you’re starting at the bottom and trying to work your way to the top. It’s kind of been the hardest thing to cope with. You can’t let it bruise your ego, but motivate you to continue to get better. You just have to get used to not being the big dog in the yard.
Would you say that playing at a big-time program, like Ohio State, prepared you for the rigors of the NFL?
It did, as far as the games, preparation, and everything football-wise. Football is now a job, though, so you’re in a locker room where some people are playing for a paycheck to feed their families, and it’s all about getting your job done, regardless of where you played in college. The stakes are a lot higher now, but playing in front of a bunch of people, on television, and against quality opponents each week made it a little easier than some of the small school guys. I mean, we’re all in the NFL, so they’re pretty good, too. Really, it probably just helped my draft status a little more.
Was making it to the NFL always a dream of yours, or was there something else that you wanted to do?
I didn't think it was possible. I thought it was a little more far-fetched than it was and I didn't ever expect to make it to the NFL, but it was definitely always a dream of mine.
Outside of football, are there any charities or business ventures that you are passionate about?
I have my own foundation, the Malcolm Jenkins Foundation. I started it in 2010, which helps assist and develop under served communities across the country. I’m really passionate about helping kids that are less fortunate than I am. Also, I started my own bow tie company last year, called Rock Avenue Bow Ties. I just really wanted to start my own company and break through to the fashion world.
Have you received any orders from former Ohio State President E. Gordon Gee?
Not yet, but surely, I’ll make sure to design one especially for him. I heard the new president, Michael Drake, is also a big fan of bow ties, so I’ll have to reach out to him, as well. I’m pretty sure the only way to be the president of The Ohio State University is to wear bow ties.
What was the first purchase you made when you signed your rookie contract with the Saints?
It’s really cliché, but I bought a new car. It was a 2009 Mercedes s550. Everyone in New Orleans knew when I was coming.
Would you say that Saints fans are similar to the fans you interacted with in Columbus?
They’re both really passionate about their team, that’s for sure. When we’re winning, they’re behind you and make the ride fun. When you’re struggling, they take it personally. It’s not a bad thing, that’s for sure. Just the way the team drives the community, they’re very similar.
What was your first thought when you were drafted by the Saints?
I thought it was kind of ironic. My final game in college was at the Superdome, when we lost to LSU in the national championship. I made a couple big plays in that game, almost returning an interception for a touchdown. It was like I had some unfinished business in that building.
I assume winning the Super Bowl, although not in the Superdome, made that all come full circle, though. Speaking of the big game, was it hard to watch the Seahawks win, knowing that your team was within one score in your playoff matchup?
I think it’s one of those things where, if a team beats you, you kind of want them to go on and win the whole thing. You want to know you lost to the best team in the league. I personally feel that their defense is among the best to ever play the game, so you take pride in coming so close. I’m happy for the Seahawks.
Although you moved to safety, do you have any feelings towards Richard Sherman saying he is the best corner in the league?
I think unless you can prove him otherwise, you shouldn't have a problem with it. He had a phenomenal year, played against some of the best receivers and made plays against all of them. I think he is the best corner in the league.
Although not always one-on-one, you face some of the best receivers in the league, as well. Who would you say is the most difficult to cover or the most intimating player you've ever faced?
I think the toughest receiver to cover is Calvin Johnson. He’s the biggest, fastest, strongest receiver in the league. It’s like combining the size of tight end with the speed of a receiver all into one package. It’s almost if you put LeBron James in pads, but even faster.
Obviously a fan of the Buckeyes, LeBron has come to Ohio Stadium for a few primetime games in recent years. To me, it seems, everyone from the general student population would call it a highlight of their time at Ohio State. What was your favorite moment in Columbus, on the field or off?
It would have been in 2006 when we beat Michigan. #1 vs #2. It was just the whole experience that came with that game. From facing our rival with the chance to play for a national championship to watching the fans pull up the turf after the game. It was all so surreal.
Likewise, what is the one play that sticks out as your "welcome to the NFL" or career-defining moment?
Thanksgiving Day against the Cowboys, I chased down Roy Williams and stripped the ball from him. They were in our territory, about to go up two scores, but I stripped and recovered it, setting up Drew Brees to go down the field and score the game winning touchdown. Probably the biggest play of my entire career.
Although they’re your enemies on gameday, do you still keep in touch with any of your former Ohio State teammates or coaches?
I keep in touch with a lot of them. James Laurinaitis was the best man in my wedding, and I was in his wedding. I talk to Kurt Coleman, Brian Hartline, and Brian Robiskie. Just the other day, I talked to my position coach Taver Johnson, and of course, I talk with Jim Tressel. We don’t talk often, but they’ll always be my boys. It goes back to our Alma Mater, "how firm thy friendship."
Knowing he beat you in a national championship game, what were your feelings when Urban Meyer became the head coach at Ohio State?
When he was hired, I didn’t have feelings either way. I only saw the man that the media portrayed. I was able to sit down and talk with him, though, and I’ve watched how he leads his team. It’s easy to see why he’s been so successful. Seeing the work he puts in, it’s good to know that the program is in the right hands.
Is there any difference in how Tressel ran things as opposed to how Meyer does now, or are there more similarities than we’re led to believe?
When you talk Xs and Os, it’s pretty different, but off the field, they’re actually pretty similar. They have a lot of the same values. They care about the character of the players they bring in, the academics, and they make it clear it’s not just about football. Tressel put a premium on that. Obviously, they’re different when it comes to offensive philosophies, but they’re very similar on the things that truly matter.
Have you talked with Tressel about his future, whether it’s coaching or in academia?
I think he’ll be great at whatever he chooses to do. I know that if he wanted to return to coaching, somebody would be lucky to have him. Regardless of whether it was in college or the NFL, he’s proven he can be successful. If he wants to be president of a university, I wouldn't doubt him. He’s a great motivator and fundraiser, two things needed for that position.
Although it cost him his job, would you say the Ohio State football program is maybe in a better place after the tattoo scandal than it was before?
I wouldn't necessarily say that, but you can’t argue with the results of the past two years. It’s like going from good to great. Everything was working well before, but we ended up with something a little better. Not that a change was needed, but it sort of breathed a new life into the program.
Finally, how do you think the next few years play out for Ohio State, as well as for your career?
I think the Buckeyes will continue to get better, especially in the secondary. They brought in a solid recruiting class, but this year ultimately falls on the development of Braxton Miller. Once he graduates, though, the program will have to find another star to continue his success. For me, I’m sort of in a limbo. I just finished the last year of my rookie contract. Once free agency happens, we’ll see if I’m still here in New Orleans or if I’m wearing a different uniform. A fresh start usually does well for players, so it’s an exciting position to be in.