Fresh Faces on the Field

November/December 2002

Reading time min

Julian Jenkins explodes off the line of scrimmage. The lineman assigned to block him goes right; Jenkins breaks left and heads straight for the San Jose State quarterback. Then he hesitates—his target fakes a handoff. Suddenly, Jenkins accelerates again, reaching out for the quarterback’s chest. In a spinning flurry of red and white and green, Jenkins drags him to the ground.

This is familiar territory for the 6-foot-4-inch, 240-pound defensive end, a former prep All-American and Georgia Gatorade Player of the Year. “I knew the play. It was a speed option,” Jenkins says. “Just like high school football down in Georgia.”

That’s right, Jenkins is a freshman. Not a redshirt freshman. A true freshman.

In fact, the 2002 Cardinal’s fortunes rest largely on players who lack game-time experience. Head coach Buddy Teevens “never calls us freshmen out there,” Jenkins says. “He just calls us the ‘young guys.’ We love him for it.”

During training camp, Teevens told the young guys to compete hard for starting spots and not expect to redshirt, as frosh typically did when Tyrone Willingham was head coach. “The biggest thing is rapid maturity,” Teevens told the San Jose Mercury News before the season. “Guys who have not set foot on the field will have to play like they have.”

And nowhere is that more important than on the defensive line. With seven starters returning from last season’s Pac-10-best offense, coupled with offensive-minded, Florida-influenced Teevens at the helm, scoring points was not a preseason concern. The defense—which returned two starters from a unit that allowed more than 28 points per game—was.

At press time, the results were uneven. In the opening game against Boston College on September 7, the Cardinal defense surrendered a 10-point fourth-quarter lead to lose, 34-27. The next week, Stanford scored 63 points—the most in one game since 1981—and held San Jose State to 26 in what Bay Area media have begun calling the “Little Game.” Against Arizona State, the team wilted in the desert sun, losing 65-24—its worst conference loss in 15 years. On its trip to South Bend, Ind., to face Notre Dame, the Cardinal led Willingham’s new team until the third quarter, when the Fighting Irish scored four touchdowns in seven minutes and went on to win 31-7.

But Jenkins is holding his own. Second on the depth chart behind redshirt sophomore Amon Gordon, Jenkins has seen substantial minutes in every game. He registered his first sack in the Cardinal’s rout of San Jose State as well as two tackles against Arizona State and three against Notre Dame.

“I don’t think I’ve been around a more mature freshman in all my years of coaching,” says defensive ends coach Peter McCarty.

Jenkins already knows that he wants to major in psychology, and he is considering a career in politics. And he’s taking the transition to college in stride. Shortly after the San Jose State game, Jenkins met his freshman roommate. An only child, Jenkins had worried about learning to share space. His anxiety folded like a sacked quarterback.

“It’s not gonna be hard,” he says. “He likes gangster movies, like The Godfather, Goodfellas, Scarface. I can watch stuff like that. That’s good stuff.”

“Usually, freshmen at this time are drowning,” McCarty says. “Julian’s probably the most [advanced] freshman I’ve ever been around. He’ll be captain someday.”

You May Also Like

© Stanford University. Stanford, California 94305.