Former Buckeye Malcolm Jenkins took the time to speak with us today about his experiences with National Championships as a Buckeye, his perspective on the playoff system, and his expectations for the Buckeyes in tonight's game.
Jenkins went to two national championships as a Buckeye, and he had some interesting insight about what the week leading up to the big game is like for players.
"I've been to two, so I had two different experiences," Jenkins said. "The first one is really kind of a circus. It's more media than you have ever seen in your entire life. You go through the media day, and that's an experience in itself. All the starters have their own podium where it's hundreds of reporters around them. You go to a different city, they have all these events and things, and it's set up similar to a Super Bowl. So that whole week, there's just so much on the schedule. There's fans everywhere, and it's a little bit much."
Jenkins learned from the first experience and was able to sharpen his focus on football the second time around. "The second time I went, that was something that once I had the experience, it was something I tried to ignore a lot and kind of just stayed away from all the stuff that I could," Jenkins said. "But it's really inevitable to kind of go through the circus that is a National Championship."
Jenkins is no stranger to the big stage, having helped lead his high school team in Piscataway, NJ, to three consecutive state championships and being a Buckeye during their trips to the national championship games in the 2006 and 2007 seasons.
Jenkins said that these experiences did help him prepare for his Super Bowl experience with the Saints during his rookie season in 2009.
"It's kind of set up the same way in that when you get there, that next day you have a media day, there's events everywhere, there's all kinds of appearance opportunities, and everybody wants to do an interview with you, and family's in town, and that was all stuff that I was really prepared for and was able to kind of block out," Jenkins said. "I remember that whole Super Bowl week, it was nothing but football for me, and that was kind of my main focus and a lot of the guys' focus. We got there -- that first day, we had the day off, and that's when you took care of everything. You did your appearances, you got with your family, but once we had that first practice we kind of locked in. I definitely think my experiences in college and in high school kind of prepared me for that."
Jenkins tweeted during the Big Ten Championship game that the Buckeyes defense he was watching dominate Wisconsin reminded him of the Silver Bullet defense of old. Jenkins has been impressed with the development of this unit over the course of this season and has high expectations for the Buckeyes defense against Oregon.
"I expect to see the same thing [against Oregon], and that was something I think has gotten better throughout the season, because I remember having a distinct conversation where earlier in the season I didn't think that," Jenkins said. "It was like, where is the defense that I'm used to? And over the last month of the season and obviously the playoffs they've shown up, and they look like a team that can ride their defense to a championship and a defense that is really stingy, that flies around, hits people. And so I expect to kind of see the same thing, and I think we match up well against Oregon."
Jenkins has a unique perspective on Oregon's offense, considering his head coach, Chip Kelly, is one of the architects of Oregon's offensive style, and the Philadelphia Eagles run a similar offense. "I think [Oregon's] speed is not too much for us to handle. Obviously, the fast pace of their offense is something that -- and I practice against it every day, being in Philadelphia with coach Chip Kelly, the head coach who runs that same Oregon offense -- and it's something that you can't get used to in a week," Jenkins said. "I know they said they were doing things to get ready, and it's probably not going to be enough, but they'll have to settle in and really play well."
Jenkins was more than happy to talk about his former coach, Jim Tressel, who led the Buckeyes to those consecutive National Championship appearances, being inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame. "I couldn't be happier for him, and I love Coach to death, and we still keep in contact and still talk, so to see him be honored in the Hall of Fame is, I think, much deserved," Jenkins said. "I know everyone in Ohio still loves him and he holds a special place in a lot of people's hearts. He's affected a lot of his kids, not just with football, but really growing us up and grooming us to be productive men in society, and it couldn't have happened to a better coach."
Like many professional athletes, Jenkins is using his celebrity to benefit others. The Malcolm Jenkins Foundation has a Youth Sports Safety Initiative that is helping to educate youth athletes, parents, trainers and coaches on safety in youth sports.
"I think it's important to educate the parents and especially the youth, because as a professional athlete, we have the best care that is available, but you have kids who are playing the same sport and getting the same injuries, but don't have the same care or the same knowledge of their injuries," Jenkins said. "It's about educating not only the players, but the parents, the coaching staff, the training staff on how to properly diagnose concussions or any other injuries and how to properly treat them and make sure that those who are taking care of our youth are well-educated, well-versed and know what they're doing."
Jenkins' mother, Gwendolyn, has been a driving force behind the initiative. "It's one of those things that wasn't available to my parents, and my mom, she is the president of my foundation, and she's really spearheading this whole campaign," Jenkins said. "As a parent, you get kind of worried when your kid's out there playing and the chance of injury, but you get a lot more settled when you're educated about the process and what to look for."
Jenkins is partnered with Capital One, the official credit card and banking partner of the new College Football Playoff, to help promote their Capital One Cup initiative, which provides scholarship opportunities for student-athletes and aligns nicely with the scholarship program Jenkins sustains through his foundation.
"The Capital One Cup -- any D1 school basically is competing for these scholarships, where your school gets $400,000 in scholarships awarded, split down the middle for your male sports and your female sports," Jenkins said. "The National Championship carries a weight of 60 points, so not only do we have a chance to win a national title, but we also get that boost of 60 points toward the Capital One cup, and it's all about the education. It goes to scholarships for the winning Division I school, so it's a great opportunity, it's aligned with my foundation['s focus] and that's why I'm a part of it."
The shift to a playoff structure is a big change from the BCS system that placed Jenkins' Buckeyes in National Championship games, and Jenkins thinks it's a good change.
"I like it. I think everyone just kind of really enjoyed it," Jenkins said. "I think it added a little bit more excitement. I think you get a better idea of who the best team is, and you allow them to play that out. So there's always going to be teams who feel like they've gotten left out, but I think for the first year to do four teams, I think it was amazing and it's just been a fun run. I think the National Championship won't disappoint. I think it's going to be a great game. And I do see them probably expanding the playoffs at some point, but I think it's definitely been great the first year."
Jenkins was emphatic when asked if it was gratifying to see the Buckeyes beat the SEC's top team, Alabama, in the first round of the inaugural College Football Playoffs.
"Oh, definitely, and not only to beat just any SEC team. They beat the best SEC team, and they beat the number one team in the country at the time when nobody really thought we could do it," Jenkins said. "They brought up all the same cliches that they usually do -- speed and size and the strength of schedule -- and to show up and win in the fashion that we did, I think was a huge boost for not only the university, but for the Big Ten. And you saw how the rest of the Big Ten played throughout the bowl season, and I think it was very, very encouraging that people are starting to see the talent that is in the Big Ten, and we definitely represented well."
Jenkins has a lot of respect for Oregon and emphasized that the Buckeyes will need to bring their best to the field tonight. He expects the defense to do precisely that. "My expectation is for [the Buckeyes] to show up and play with the same fire and intensity that they had versus Alabama. I think Oregon is a phenomenal team that, if you don't bring your best, they can definitely win, and they can beat us if we don't play our A game," Jenkins said. "But I expect our defense to make plays, to be disruptive."
Offensively, Jenkins thinks we'll see the Buckeyes try to change the pace up a little bit, and expects the run game to factor heavily into the Buckeyes' success. "We need to run the ball offensively. I don't think we'll come out with the fast tempo like we did against Alabama," Jenkins said. "I think we'll actually slow the game down, but we need to run the ball well and really just have a solid all-around performance."
Overall, Jenkins thinks the Buckeyes just need to be themselves tonight. After all, this is a team that has, time and time again this season, defied injuries, inexperience and expectations. "Play smart, don't let the stage and the enormity of the game get to us, and don't do anything out of our own characteristics," Jenkins said. "Just play Buckeye football."