When freshman Bryce Jenkinson signed his letter of intent to play college football at Cincinnati last February, one of the schools that he turned down was Yale.
“To be honest with you, all of my friends back home wanted me to go there,” Jenkinson said with a laugh. “They said, ‘You’ll be a millionaire when you get out of school.’ But I wanted to be close to home and I love it here in Cincinnati. I couldn’t pass it up.
“Now my family can come and see me – my parents, my grandparents, and my friends. It’s a great place to be.”
The 6’1”, 235 pound linebacker is from Greenville, OH – about two hours north of Cincinnati.
“It’s a small little country town and I’m very proud of it,” Bryce told me. “I went to Greenville Senior High School with a graduating class of about 225 kids. We were a powerhouse in football and I loved playing there.”
Jenkinson began attracting interest from college programs after his sophomore year of high school. The attention skyrocketed when he ran a 4.42 40-yard dash.
“I didn’t know that I could do it, but out of the blue I started running fast times and jumping really high,” he said. “That’s what sparked the interest. Once I did that, the word got out. Being from a little country town, you never really think that you could get to the Division I level. So I came here to camp and they offered and I was ecstatic.”
Thanks to his excellent grades, Jenkinson was able to leave high school early and he enrolled at UC last January. That allowed him to take part in spring practice and gave him a head start going into his freshman season.
“Bryce is the epitome of hard work,” said linebackers coach Jeff Koonz. “He came in early and sacrificed part of his senior year of high school. He really progressed from the spring into fall camp and the reps added up and mattered. He’s a smart guy and he really works hard.”
“All he needed was one spring and he was equal to or beyond other guys that have been with us for two or three years,” said head coach Tommy Tuberville. “That’s the kind of football player he is mentally.”
“It was so worth it now that I look back,” said Jenkinson. “There are a lot of kids that come in and they’re all stressed out over classes and I can say, ‘Guys, trust me – it’s going to get easier.’”
With senior Clemente Casseus under suspension to begin the season for breaking team rules, Jenkinson played an estimated 40 out of 63 defensive snaps at middle linebacker in the season opener as he shared time with starter Kevin Brown. Whichever of those two players was on the field called the defensive signals.
“From that standpoint, we didn’t lose much going from the first group to the second group,” said Koonz. “Bryce is a vocal guy in the huddle. It’s a fine line trying to talk to upper classmen like you’ve been there and done that before, while also conveying that they can have confidence that you’re going to get them into the right fronts and checks. For the most part he did that on Saturday night and I’m really proud of him. I’m happy to see that the work he’s put in really paid off.”
“I remember the first meeting at spring practice because my head was spinning,” Bryce told me. “Coach was drawing all these formations on the board and going 100 miles an hour and I was thinking, ‘How am I going to get a hold of this?’ But once we started to break it down at practice and I got some reps, it got a lot easier. I’ve got to give credit to the seniors and the coaches – including Coach (Luke) Goodwin the grad assistant. He’s spent a lot of extra time with me going over plays and formations late at night when he could have been home.”
“Linebackers are like your quarterbacks on offense – they have to know what everybody else does and Bryce has picked it up very quickly,” said Tuberville. “He reminds me of Michael Barrow who I coached at Miami. He absorbed everything that you told him and never forgot it. Well, Bryce is the same way. He’s a sure tackler because he takes shortcuts to the ball. That’s hard to explain, but when you understand the play and the formation you can take those shortcuts.”
“He’s a talented kid, but there are a lot of talented kids in college football,” said Koonz. “It’s what you do in the meeting rooms. He came in early and the things he’s done to prepare are leading to success.”
And while the decision to play football for Cincinnati means he won’t get a degree from Yale, Jenkinson intends to get multiple degrees at UC.
“I did a post-secondary program back at my high school which allowed me to take college and high school classes, so I actually came in here with 33 credit hours,” he said. “After this semester, I will be a true freshman on the field but a junior in college. I’m trying to get as much education as I can because I’m not going to rely on my football career to carry me. I’m trying to get my finance major and then I’ll probably double-major or get a Masters. We’ll see where it goes.”
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