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Omar Jenkins: Finally playing for Ty

Joe Hettler | Thursday, November 13, 2003

Tyrone Willingham wanted Omar Jenkins on his team in 2000. He finally got him in 2002.Jenkins was heavily recruited by Willingham when the coach was at Stanford before the 2000 school year, but lost the receiver when Jenkins visited Notre Dame’s campus. When Willingham was named Irish head coach in 2002, Jenkins was reunited with the man that recruited him. “I was recruited at Stanford and I was committing to Stanford and then I took the visit to [Notre Dame],” Jenkins said. “I was in his office and I said, ‘Coach Willingham I’m going to visit Notre Dame just because I want to say I visited Notre Dame.’ Then I ended up committing here and next thing I know he’s here two years later.”And thankfully for Jenkins and the Irish football team, the decision worked out for both, as Jenkins has become a leader on offense and a consistent pass catcher during his four years at Notre Dame. An odd choiceWhen the Texas native Jenkins visited Notre Dame, it was cold, snowy and windy, students weren’t at class because of winter break and there was hardly a sole on campus. Jenkins and several other recruits simply walked around campus and checked out the football facilities and according to Jenkins, that was about it The warm California weather at Stanford’s campus would have suited Jenkins much better than South Bend’s, but by the end of his visit, “it just felt right” for Jenkins.”I’ve said it a million times, it wasn’t the most fun visit ever,” Jenkins said, an all-state receiver in Texas during his senor season. “The weather was really bad, but something about this place stood out. At the hotel I looked in the mirror and said, ‘I want to come to Notre Dame.’ And then I kind of laughed at myself because I couldn’t believe was actually going to Notre Dame.”Jenkins had to tell Willingham of his decision and the coach was obviously disappointed. Willingham said he had been impressed with Jenkins style of play in high school and thought he would fit in well with the Cardinal offense.”I had a lot of respect for Omar,” Willingham said. “The brand of football he played in Texas was the first reason. His drive and his desire as well because he has remained what I thought he would be – a very steady and consistent football player that is an excellent leader. And now I’ve changed [that attitude of respect] a little bit more because he’s on my side now.”During his first season at Notre Dame, Irish coach Bob Davie asked Jenkins if he wanted to play or redshirt. Jenkins told the coach he would do anything to help the team. So Davie let Jenkins play – but hardly enough to make the time worthwhile, and too much to get his redshirt back.Jenkins doesn’t regret the decision, but would change it if he could go back in time.”I got to play a little and I got some experience. The game slowed down tremendously the next season so I think [playing] helped my development,” Jenkins said. “At the same time I wish I could have had more playing time.”Jenkins played in six games for Notre Dame during his freshman year, but had zero catches during his playing time. “I would rather have that year back but I’m not going to say I regret it because I don’t. That’s what happened for me. I never regret anything I do,” Jenkins said.Emerging threatJenkins entered his sophomore season a little more experienced and ready to take on a more prominent role on offense. When fellow receivers Arnaz Battle and David Givens got injured, Jenkins got more playing time. He played in 11 games that season, making his first start against Pittsburgh. He also had a 47-yard touchdown catch against the Panthers.Jenkins became an every game starter his junior season and evolved into one of the more reliable offensive players for the Irish. He had started his year off with five receptions for 87 yards against Maryland, and finished the season second on the team with 37 catches for 633 yards and three touchdowns. But Jenkins’ biggest game that season came against Notre Dame’s easiest competition – Navy – and when the Irish perfect season was in serious jeopardy.Trailing the 1-7 Midshipmen 23-15 on the road in the fourth quarter, Jenkins came through with two of his biggest catches of his career. The first reception was a 16-yard touchdown from Carlyle Holiday to tie the game 23-23. Then with only a few minutes remaining in the game, Jenkins broke through the Navy secondary and caught a 67-yard touchdown that gave Notre Dame a 30-23 win and helped keep the team’s perfect record intact.”The touchdown against Navy is probably [the best highlight of my career].” Jenkins said.Leading through disappointmentThis season hasn’t gone the way Jenkins would have liked. His numbers are down from a year ago, (30 catches for 289 yards) and he has only one touchdown. Worse yet, the Irish are a struggling 3-6 with only three games remaining on the schedule.Jenkins said that he is disappointed, but winning the last three games of the year will help ease the pain of a tough season.”It’s disappointing in the sense that you always want to do better than you are doing,” Jenkins said. “As far numbers, it’s a team game. I’m not a selfish guy. I’m just happy to be out there being able to contribute.” After a slow start, Irish offensive coordinator Bill Diedrick said he believes Jenkins has begun to play better of late.”He’s beginning to play a lot more consistent,” Diedrick said. “During the early part of the season was probably a little bit disappointing to him, but the last part he’s picked it up a good notch.”Despite the lower numbers, Jenkins had impacted his teammates in other ways and has become one of the more important leaders on the Irish.”When I came in my freshman year, Omar explained the offense to me when I had problems and helped me feel comfortable on offense and when we were on the road also,” Irish wide receiver Maurice Stovall said.Freshman quarterback Brady Quinn said Jenkins has been instrumental in making the offense run smooth at times and keeping the team positive during games. He also said Jenkins’ work ethic has been a good influence on his teammates.”He’s a hard worker,” Quinn said. “He’s the type that always staying after practice and always trying to get better. He’s definitely a leader on the field. He tries to get the team going and get the team motivated anytime we’re down.”Diedrick said Jenkins leads his teammates by the way he performs on the field.”He’s a very quiet young man, and he’s one of those guys that will lead by example more than being a verbal leader,” Diedrick said. Jenkins admits that he isn’t going to get in his teammates faces, but doesn’t mind saying something if the opportunity presents itself.”When I do say stuff it’s when we’re in the huddle and I’ll say things in the huddle before Brady calls a play,” Jenkins said. “I say things when I feel things need to be said. I’m not going to be the guy that before the game goes around to every single person and yells in there face.”Jenkins will have one last chance to lead his teammates in his final home game Saturday against BYU. He will leave behind great recollections from all his experiences inside Notre Dame Stadium, which included one of his favorite career memories – catching that first touchdown against Pittsburgh.”To be here for four years and be able to play here for four years, it’s a great honor,” Jenkins said. “Being out there for the last time, I’m going to put it all out.”