FRISCO, Texas -- Can you name the best college quarterback in the state of Alabama?
If you thought he played on The Plains or in Tuscaloosa – that would be wrong. The best quarterback in the Yellowhammer State is Eli Jenkins – hands down. The quarterback from Birmingham, Alabama is quickly leaving his mark with other great homegrown quarterbacks like Bart Starr and A.J. McCarron.
Jenkins gets it done with his feet and his arm. He has racked up more than 2,700 yards and 21 touchdowns through the air while rushing for more than 1,000 yards and scoring 14 touchdowns. He is the first player in school history to amass more than 8,000 yards in total offense. He also collected an armful of awards this season, including the Ohio Valley Conference Offensive Player of the Year.
The Jacksonville State offense is averaging nearly 54 points per game this postseason and head coach John Grass said a big reason for those numbers is because of the effort No. 7 puts in to every game.
“The quarterback knows where to go with the ball and when to get it out, and really commands the offense,” Grass said. “He works on the game all the time and watches a lot of film. Not a day goes by in the offseason where he doesn’t throw the ball. He’s always out there with other guys working on thing he needs to work on to get better. His work ethic has gotten him to this point.”
The Gamecocks have ripped off 12 consecutive wins after losing to Auburn in overtime in the second game of the season. Jenkins broke into the national spotlight after his play against Auburn.
“After that game [against Auburn] everyone was telling us not to be upset. We went into that game to win the game, how can you not be upset to lose a game? We lost and we learned from it,” he said. “We’ve been playing hard ever since. We’ve practiced harder. We knew that Auburn would be a big test and we’d play hard and get a lot of exposure that we don’t normally get playing an FCS team. We put it in our head that we were going to make it to this point so it doesn’t look like a fluke.”
Grass never likes to give the Gamecocks’ opponents a face. They are just another team that JSU needs to beat. It doesn’t matter if an FBS program or a Division II program. But don’t let the coachspeak fool you, when Jacksonville State took the second-most popular team in Alabama to overtime, it told his team they can hang with the big boys.
“I think that [Auburn] game helped prove to our guys that we can play on any stage and I think they’re really focused on how we play.”
Now the stage is set for a showdown with four-time defending champion North Dakota State.
“We’re ready. We’ve been preparing for this game since we lost to Sam Houston State in the second round of the playoffs last year. We always said we’d get to the national championship next year and we’ve been practicing. We deserve to be here,” Jenkins said. “These guys, my teammates and coaches, we’ve worked extremely hard to get to this spot. It’s a blessing to be here and we’re going to give it our all.”
Grass has his men ready to go it’s been too long without a real game.
“It's been a long time coming, but tomorrow we're going to actually get to play some football. It's been a long time, three weeks since we got to play. A lot of water has gone under the bridge with the Christmas holidays, New Year's. I think they're happy to get on the field and play against somebody else instead of practicing against ourselves,” the coach said.
If Jacksonville State can spoil North Dakota’s one for the thumb quest on Saturday they will become the fourth program in NCAA history to claim both a Division I and Division II national championship in football. The Gamecocks won the Division II title in 1992. The other teams to accomplish that feat were North Dakota State, Montana State and Delaware.
What a championship would mean to the city of 13,000 people in Jacksonville, Alabama, is not lost on the team.
“It means the world to our city,” cornerback Jermaine Hough said. “We're trying to put the city on our back. These last couple years, we haven't put Jacksonville State on the map. It's been 24 years since there's been a championship. It will be great to bring this back home to the city.”
Jenkins has also noticed a more positive change in attitude when he walks around town.
“I see smiles on everybody's face around campus. When I go to Dollar General, McDonald's, all they want to do is talk about football. It wasn't like that three, four years ago when I first got there.
“It's a blessing to put smiles on those faces.”