Jacksonville State Gamecocks head coach John Grass has declared that the aim this spring is to build depth — with competition ongoing for every spot. That means at quarterback, too, but redshirt junior-to-be Eli Jenkins would seem to be as firmly entrenched at No. 1 as anybody could be.
The Birmingham-Parker High product has started two seasons, helping the Gamecocks to a 21-6 record, an Ohio Valley Conference championship and two playoff appearances. In 26 appearances — he started 20 games, including all 12 a year ago, while missing one contest with an injury in 2013 — Jenkins has rolled up 4,408 yards of total offense, running and passing for 29 touchdowns.
He threw for 1,870 yards last season as JSU rolled through the league undefeated and finished 10-2, collecting first-team All-OVC honors in the process.
“I don’t see it as the starting job is mine, not at all,” Jenkins said during an off day from spring training at JSU. “Every day, our coach tells us that the job is open. We are competing for the job. There are four quarterbacks and every day is a different competition and it makes each one of us better at the position. I can’t go in thinking this spot is mine. The job is up for grabs.”
Despite the accolades and the success Jenkins has enjoyed, the 6-foot-3, 205-pounder said he had goals in mind for the spring in order to improve.
“There are many things I need to improve on,” he said. “My coach gave me a couple of things he feels I need to work on. I think I need to gain more confidence than I had last year. Throwing the ball, I know I can definitely get better. I need to know the defenses better, see what the defense is going to do before the play develops, where the ball should be in coverage.”
He added that he wants to become a better leader for his team — on and off the field.
“All my life, I’ve been a laid-back guy,” Jenkins said. “I’m not the type to get in the huddle and get everybody riled up. I’m more of a lead-by-example type guy. I need to speak up more. I do speak up when it’s needed, but I need to encourage more.
“If I need to get on somebody, I feel I’ve earned the respect to do that. I need to know the situation and understand how to take control when I need to.”
Showing leadership off the field, the quarterback said, can take many forms, especially when the new guys show up this summer.
“When the younger guys get here in the summertime, coming in from high school where they were the big men on campus, I need to let them know that everybody here was the star in high school,” Jenkins said. “Here, you have to work. I don’t want to let them think that something is going to be given to them.”
Jenkins is also closing in on his bachelor’s degree in exercise science. He wants to be a leader in the classroom, too.
“I can lead by example with my schoolwork,” he said. “I do pretty good with my classes, so when other people see me doing good in my classes I feel that encourages them to think, ‘I need to pick it up, too.’”
Jenkins said he is feeling good this spring.
“I’m just hungry,” he said. “The way the season ended (with a playoff loss), it’s good to get back in and compete with the older guys and the new guys. We felt like we had a chance to go all way last year, but we lost in that second round. We’re going to have a great spring and summer, working to reach our goal.”