Miami sophomore Rayshawn Jenkins changed his uniform number in the offseason from 29 to 26, a tribute to Sean Taylor, the rangy and athletic safety who wore the same number when he played for the Hurricanes.
The former standout at Admiral Farragut Academy never met Taylor, a No. 1 draft pick of the NFL's Redskins in 2004 who was shot and killed during an attempted burglary in his Miami home in 2007. But Jenkins kept photos of his idol on his iPad and posted them on his Facebook page.
"(Taylor) played the same position as me, and I always tried to study and emulate the way he played," Jenkins said. "He was a beast."
Now Jenkins is trying to blaze his own path with that familiar number. He already has become a fixture in Miami's secondary with an ability to make big plays.
Last season, Jenkins played in 10 games, making two starts as a freshman. He finished with 27 tackles and an interception. After an intense battle this summer, Jenkins retained his starting spot and had a pair of tackles in last week's season-opening win against Florida Atlantic.
On Saturday, the Hurricanes host No. 12 Florida in the last scheduled meeting between the longtime rivals.
"It's one of the games we were all looking forward to on the schedule," Jenkins said. "We all know a lot of guys on that team. But it's only one game. They're all important to us."
As an Admiral Farragut senior in 2011, Jenkins came back from a fractured rib to lead a memorable playoff run that culminated with the Blue Jackets' first state title-game appearance. Of his 994 yards rushing that year, 714 came in four playoff games, including a school and county playoff single-game record of 356 in an opening-round victory over Fort Myers Evangelical Christian.
In the state semifinals, Jenkins faced Belle Glade Glades Day running back Kelvin Taylor, now a freshman at Florida. Jenkins had the better results, rushing for 130 yards and scoring three touchdowns to help the Blue Jackets knock off the two-time defending state champion to advance to the title game.
Jenkins' versatility attracted colleges with offers coming from schools such as Alabama, Florida State, Miami and USF. He initially chose the Bulls before deciding on the Hurricanes.
"Rayshawn was a big-time recruit, probably the most talented player I've ever coached," said former Admiral Farragut coach Chris Miller, who is now at Seminole. "I had a feeling he would go to Miami because he was such a big fan of the school and idolized Sean Taylor so much."
It didn't take long for Jenkins to emerge as a force with the Hurricanes. But he had to hold off fifth-year senior AJ Highsmith to remain a starter.
Competition is nothing new for Jenkins, one of 16 siblings in a family that excels in athletics. His sister Charlisa is 6 feet 1 and a standout in basketball. His 10-year-old brother, Kevary, scored 30 touchdowns last year as a youth league star.
"We were competitive with each other, but it was more friendly than anything," Jenkins said. "It wasn't like we were trying to top each other; we just wanted to make each other better. I'm happy with the success they're having. My younger brother reminds me of myself when I played."
At Miami, Jenkins has stood out in a loaded secondary by combining his athletic gifts with his devotion to film study. Jenkins has studied so much, he knows the cues to look for from receivers and quarterbacks.
That preparation started at a young age when Jenkins watched his idol, Taylor.
"I played just about every skill position growing up," Jenkins said. "But once I knew I was going to play safety in college, I started following the way Taylor played. I wanted his number because I wanted to be the one to fill his shoes and make it great again.
"But I don't just want to follow someone. I want to forge my own identity."
Bob Putnam can be reached at [email protected] or on Twitter @BobbyHomeTeam.