Cornerback is one of the toughest positions to play in college football.
Corners are expected to cover the best athletes the other team has to offer, and the smallest mistake will likely result in a touchdown for the opponent.
Most teams hope to field at least one cornerback talented enough to cover college football’s best receivers one-on-one.
In seniors Trae Williams and Mike Jenkins, USF has two.
“You can never be comfortable, especially in the secondary,” defensive backs coach Rich Rachel said. “It’s the hottest place in the house, and if you can’t stand the heat you better get out of the kitchen. But (Jenkins and Williams) have grown to expect (the best) out of themselves.”
Those expectations have been formed over time, both on and off the field.
“We’re good friends,” Williams said of Jenkins. “We were roommates last year, and (we) hang out most of the time off the field. If you see me, you’ll see him.”
The pair’s friendship, along with their three years of playing experience, has allowed them to develop a reassuring confidence in each other on the field.
“(Knowing Trae is over there) gives you a lot of
confidence in the other corner,” Jenkins said. “I know his thought processes after being with him every day and being roommates like we were last year. We’ve been through a lot together. I don’t have to worry about him covering someone or missing a tackle, and that feels pretty good.”
Williams feels having that extra bit of confidence in the opposite cornerback is a luxury.
“It feels good knowing that the guy across from me is capable of making lots of plays,” Williams said. “I know that you don’t have to worry about him. He can hold his own.”
Both Jenkins and Williams enter this season as All-American candidates following impressive 2006 campaigns that garnered the pair numerous accolades during the off season. Williams was a first-team All-Big East selection after leading the Bulls in interceptions (seven) and recording 49 tackles. Jenkins was named second team All-Big East after posting 27 tackles, one interception and a team-high 15 deflected passes. Because of his success on the field, along with his size and speed, Jenkins was named the fifth best cornerback in the nation this offseason by NFL draft guru Mel Kiper Jr.
Their playmaking ability is not the only thing the two Florida natives bring to the Bulls. Williams and Jenkins also possess the intangibles that football coaches dream about.
“Mike and Trae are tremendous players because they understand that they have to work extremely hard to be good and they are talented as well,” coach Jim Leavitt said. “They’re humble and they don’t take things for granted. They understand that all the accolades they’ve
received don’t mean anything if they don’t go out and produce each and every game.”
Producing has never been a problem for the pair. Together, they’ve combined for 59 starts at USF. In that time, Jenkins has had 92 tackles, 29 passes deflected and three
interceptions. Williams has
posted 110 tackles, and his 10 career interceptions are second most in USF history, eight behind J.R. Reed.
When two players as talented and competitive as Williams and Jenkins play the same position, a little friendly competition is inevitable. The cornerback pair has even created an extra incentive for outperforming each other during the season.
“We compete in every game,” Jenkins said. “We compete for picks and he beat me last year. Whoever gets the most picks takes the other one out to dinner at the end of the season. We try to compete with everything because I think it just raises our game to a whole other level.”
Williams and Jenkins are not the only Bulls to benefit from their own constant drive to improve. Every day at practice, the USF offense gets a chance to face one of the nation’s top cornerback tandems.
“I feel like we’ve got the best DB’s in the country,” senior receiver Amarri Jackson said. “Mike and Trae are big time leaders, and I try and get as many reps as I can with those two guys because I don’t think I’m going to see a better corner on the schedule.”
Bulls quarterback Matt Grothe also knows how beneficial it is to practice against such high-caliber players.
“We’ve got one of the best (cornerback tandems) in the nation right now,” Grothe said. “Going against them everyday, it’s kind of hard not to get better. You’re either going to get better or you’re going to get worse.”
The reigning Big East Rookie of the Year knows all about the problems a cornerback tandem like Williams and Jenkins can cause for a quarterback.
“You’ve got to be precise,” Grothe said. “You can’t make a mistake against them because, with guys that good, you know it’s going to bite you in the butt and they’re going to make you look foolish.”
After three years of playing together in the Bulls secondary, Williams and Jenkins enter their senior season at a time when USF football is seeing unprecedented levels of success. For this hardworking duo, the goal for this season is clear.
“I’m excited,” Williams said. “We’re going into our senior season. Last year, we won our first bowl game and that was great. This year I want to be a part of the first team that wins a Big East Championship.”