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Published: Friday, 1/17/2003

Loyal Jenkins should have left Buckeyes

Ohio State junior split end Michael Jenkins weighed all the pluses and minuses of staying against the pluses and minuses of leaving, and he determined the NFL can wait.

Jenkins will return to the Buckeyes even though his presence would have enhanced what is projected to be a ho-hum draft because of a lack of senior star power.

On the one hand, Jenkins is to be commended for staying in school. The college experience is wonderful, and pursuing a four-year degree should be the goal of every student.

If, on the other hand, playing football at Ohio State is preparing Jenkins for his life's work - along with collecting a six or seven-figure salary as a first or second-round pick - another year in college won't make that much of a difference.

We can debate whether Jenkins should stay and complete his free college education, but only if we know for certain that's what led him to Ohio State.

That's why, as much as I respect Jenkins' decision to play one more year for the Buckeyes, I question if he's doing the right thing.

Jenkins is ready for the NFL right now. He's 6-5, wiry strong and quicker than a hiccup. An effective blocker in Ohio State's run-oriented offense, he still managed to catch 110 passes for 2,064 yards and nine touchdowns in 26 games.

Because of the Buckeyes' conservative offensive scheme, Jenkins will be more of a threat in the pros. He's a gamebreaker who's barely scratched the surface of his football ability.

When I spoke to Jenkins before the Fiesta Bowl, he said he was leaning toward returning to school, but he didn't rule out going to the NFL.

Jenkins didn't put up big numbers in the national championship game, which might have convinced him to enter the draft, but he did make the biggest catch of the night - a clutch 17-yard sideline grab from Craig Krenzel on fourth-and-14, keeping the Buckeyes' hopes alive in overtime.

However, Jenkins served primarily as a decoy against Miami.

Unless OSU coach Jim Tressel decides to open up the offense, Jenkins will play pretty much the same role next year. His numbers probably won't change dramatically.

And if the Buckeyes don't repeat as national champions, Jenkins' stock may not climb.

Jenkins is following the example set by safety Michael Doss, who returned for his senior season because he wanted to win a Big Ten title and a national championship. Doss was rewarded, and that may have influenced Jenkins.

What's surprising is that Jenkins made his decision after watching Miami junior running back Willis McGahee suffer a horrific knee injury in the Fiesta Bowl that left his leg dangling grotesquely.

McGahee, a certain top-five selection in this year's draft, faces lengthy rehabilitation and will likely drop out of the first round, costing him millions.

I know that young people often believe they are invincible, but every underclassman contemplating entering this year's NFL draft should have put himself in McGahee's shoes.

A business major with economics courses under his belt, Jenkins didn't ace his final exam. He should have left school early and gotten a head start on his life's work.



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