TALLAHASSEE — Ever since his days in peewee football, Florida State's Brandon Jenkins has lined up at defensive end and feverishly and ruthlessly chased down quarterbacks and ballcarriers.
And for just about as long, he passionately followed his hometown team, FSU, which has had a long and illustrious list of dynamic players at his position.
So, which Seminole was his favorite?
"I was a Peter Warrick fan," said Jenkins, a quiet and unassuming sophomore out of Tallahassee Florida High, referring to the former star receiver. "I didn't really pay attention to the defensive ends."
Well, folks are sure paying attention to him. Just as they once did to the guys he could have breathlessly watched and didn't; guys such as Peter Boulware and Reinard Wilson and Jamal Reynolds and. …
The 6-foot-3, 252-pound Jenkins, who blends dizzying quickness, improved power and uncanny instincts, has emerged as one of the nation's top pass-rushing ends, renewing an FSU tradition at that spot.
"I look up to the former defensive ends (here)," he said, "and I want to work to be just like them."
Jenkins had two sacks against both Brigham Young and Wake Forest to give him a team-leading 4½ entering Saturday's ACC game at Virginia. His average of 1.13 per game is tied for 12th nationally and has helped FSU rack up a nation's best 19 sacks.
To put those statistics into perspective, just look at last season. Markus White, then a junior, and Kevin McNeil, then a senior, led the FSU defensive ends with two sacks apiece. FSU finished with 26 sacks, but it had to blitz to get them; linebacker and current Bucs rookie Dekoda Watson led the Seminoles with 6½ sacks. But as the Seminoles used to do, they're relying on their front to be a fantastic four, taking pressure off their young secondary.
"When you have a guy like that of his ability who can put pressure on the quarterback, then you don't need to do a whole lot in the back end," first-year Virginia coach Mike London said of Jenkins. "I'm sure the other three players that are with him also make him better because all four of them demand constant attention and awareness, but he's raised his game to a whole other level."
He had to. Jenkins, 20, didn't produce immediately like the next great FSU end. Not even the ones he did watch dazzle, namely Kamerion Wimbley and Everette Brown.
Although he enrolled in January 2009 and played as a backup in 12 of 13 games as a freshman, Jenkins mustered just 12 tackles and no sacks. But he continued to work on his footwork and how to better use his hands, packed on about 20 pounds of muscle, then capitalized on his opportunity to win a starting spot.
"I wouldn't say he's surprised me because we'd seen him in practice last year," redshirt sophomore defensive tackle Everett Dawkins said. "Now, he's getting the opportunity to show the potential he has."
And it's not just in sacking the quarterback. Jenkins also leads the team in tackles for a loss (6½) and is fourth in total tackles (19).
"He can play; that's why we recruited him," coach Jimbo Fisher said. "I saw it in high school. … He was just a guy who was always around the football, always in on the play."
Last week against the Demon Deacons, Jenkins collared receiver Chris Givens on an end-around on fourth and 4 from the FSU 20 in the waning moments, holding him to a 2-yard gain and preserving FSU's first shutout of a Division I-A team since 2006.
"The fullback came and tried to block me so I knew something was up," Jenkins said. "I just stayed home."
"He gets off blocks really well and has high energy and chases the ball around," added Wake Forest coach Jim Grobe, whose team became the second straight that FSU held below 200 yards.
But despite its recent success, the best might be yet to come for the defense. The unit, dominated by freshmen and sophomores, is gaining experience and confidence. Everyone can see that, especially up front with a throwback kind of end in Jenkins.
"I can honestly say," sophomore defensive tackle Jacobbi McDaniel said unabashedly, "he's going to be one of the greatest ones to come through here."