VIENNA-With spring football drills less than a month away, senior Josh Jenkins is approaching his final season with the West Virginia University football program with both anticipation as well as cautious optimism.
"I am excited for spring practice to get started," explained Jenkins, who was back in the Mid-Ohio Valley as one of 18 WVU players in attendance at the 16th annual Boys & Girls Club of Parkersburg's Steak & Burger Dinner at the Grand Pointe Conference and Reception Center on Thursday. "I mean, I am a little nervous about it because of what happened last year.
"But, I'm just looking forward to getting out there and knocking the rust off a little bit."
Jenkins, the Mountain State's only two-time winner of the Hunt Award given to the top offensive lineman in the state, was coming off of a 2010 campaign that saw him named to the second team All-Big East squad by both rivals.com as well as Phil Steele Magazine. The 6-foot, 3-inch, 305-pounder had started 11 of the Mountaineers 13 games, missing both the LSU and UNLV game while recovering from a knee injury suffered in the team's win over Maryland.
Despite missing those two games, the Parkersburg native led the offensive line in thunderbolt blocks (7) and was third in knockdown blocks (42).
The two-year starting left guard was prepared to flourish in first-year head coach Dana Holgorsen's offensive scheme and under the guidance of first year offensive line coach Bill Bedenbaugh. All spring long, both coaches talked about the development of the former Big Red and how they expected him to be a stalwart on WVU's front line.
Then, the unexpected happened.
Playing in his third Gold-Blue scrimmage, Jenkins sustained his second knee injury of the year-his third since joining the Mountaineers in 2008. This time, however, the surgery would be far more extensive and the recovery made it impossible for him to participate during West Virginia's 10-3 Orange Bowl championship season.
"You become a different kind of football player," said Jenkins. "You learn the game more, you learn the scheme more. I took it as a positive thing because I got to learn a lot.
"Coach Bedenbaugh taught me a lot of good stuff. And, I got to experience, especially since he was a new coach, what he expected from us. Because of that, I still feel like I'm still where I need to be."
But, there were "those" days as well.
"Sure, I'm not going to lie, we all go through our down times. We're all down on ourselves and we are depressed a little bit. But, that helps you deal with the adversity that you have in real life.
"I learned not to take football for granted. I enjoy it every day I'm out there. You never know when your last snap will be. That (last spring) could have been my last snap, so I play just to enjoy football."
Now, it appears Jenkins and his Mountaineer teammates will be enjoying football in another conference as an apparent deal has been struck between WVU and the Big East to allow the old gold and blue to join the Big 12 by July 1.
"Everyone is excited (about being in the Big 12)," said Jenkins. "We feel like we can do some big things in the Big 12. But, we also feel like that if we are stuck back in the Big East this year, no one is going to be mad.
"I mean, we're still playing football. But, we are looking forward to playing in the Big 12."
He also looks forward to his trips back to his hometown.
"I love being here. I love being around the kids. I like coming back here and helping raise money for the Boys & Girls Club. They need it and if we can help them, we like doing it."