*In the weeks leading up to the 2008 NFL Draft (April 26-27), BR.com will offer a look into the top prospects by position. This week, defensive backs take the spotlight, and Mike Jenkins of South Florida is next in line. *
Since the moment he arrived on campus at South Florida, Mike Jenkins was a hot commodity.
He was heavily recruited by Auburn, Nebraska and LSU, among other schools known as NCAA powerhouses. But, with diabetes causing health problems for his mother, Kathy Grey, the Bradenton, Fla. native was basically forced to stay closer to home.
Even moving north to Gainsville and the Florida Gators was out of the question.
"My mother was sick," Jenkins admitted, noting her current state of health after the high blood pressure scare. "On my signing day, she actually went into the hospital. I was keeping my little brother. It was only an hour from Bradenton to Tampa, so I could commute to take care of my brother."
Had he gone to one of those football factories, however, the starting spot he earned as a freshman with the Bulls may have been harder to achieve. Jenkins started three of USF's first four games in 2004 before an ankle injury kept him in and out of the lineup.
Still, he bounced back the ensuing season to earn second-team All-Big East honors and never looked back.
All six of Jenkins' career interceptions and 106 of his 133 career tackles came during his final three years of eligibility, as the 5-foot-10, 197-pounder started every game except the 2006 PapaJohns.com Bowl against East Carolina.
South Florida may be a lesser known school on the gridiron, but that doesn't mean Jenkins racked up his stats against inferior competition. Last season, he managed to intercept Brian Brohm in the Louisville matchup and nearly returned a Brandon Cox interception back for a touchdown against Auburn.
While scouts and analysts seem to like his size, speed (4.38-second 40 at the NFL Combine) and penchant for stepping up in the big games, Jenkins has seen his draft status fluctuate wildly in various mock drafts.
"You never know how these things turn out," Jenkins said. "I've been going up and down in the mock drafts and I can't worry about it. I talk to some scouts and get some inside information from them. They told me a lot of projections are done by people who don't see anybody play. It's just a lot of people making predictions based on rumors."
The senior's athletic ability is undeniable in the secondary, but the idea of Jenkins making an impact on special teams would be icing on the cake.
He was not typically given return duties at USF, save for one punt in each of the 2004-05 campaigns and two kickoffs in 2006. Nearing the end of his senior season, the Bulls' first-string returner was injured against Cincinnati. Jenkins filled in and tied a conference record by taking his first kickoff 100 yards for a touchdown.
He totaled seven kickoff returns that year, totaling 213 yards (30.4-yard average).
"I did kickoff returns back in high school," explained Jenkins. "I hadn't done it in college until we played at Cincinnati. I was always behind another guy. He got hurt that week and they just put me back there."
Such production is why draft guru Mel Kiper, Jr. had Jenkins atop his cornerback leaderboard for quite some time throughout the season, a designation that now belongs to Tennessee State's Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie.
No matter, says Jenkins. Despite Kiper's hunch, Jenkins thinks he is a first-round talent.
First-rounders may be a regular happening for the LSUs and Auburns of the world, but not at the lesser-known collegiate football team in Southern Florida.
"It would be an accomplishment for me," he said of hearing his name called early in the draft. "I had a lot of doubters, people saying I wouldn't go too high, just because I went to South Florida out of high school. So, it would be a big accomplishment."
Editor's note:BR.com originally posted this story with the location of USF as Miami. It has since been corrected to Tampa.