There was, to be sure, a certain excitement when Josh Jenkins, all 305 pounds of him, announced he would be spending his next four autumns on the artificial surface of Mountaineer Field at Milan Puskar Stadium as a Mountaineer.

But the truth being what it is, it didn’t quite match the rockin’ and rollin’ that would have gone on had a running back or quarterback of such a stature accepted an offer of free schooling, room and board, at our state university.

Consider the clamor when Jason Gwaltney, a fullback, first decided he would play at West Virginia or when Noel Devine told the world that he was heading to Morgantown.

Ticket sales and hotel bookings immediately went up when those two announced their college plans, but there was hardly a run on Mountaineer tickets from Jenkins’ decision, which certainly is a function of the obscure position he plays more than a reflection upon the player himself.

Jenkins is an offensive linemen. Some recruiting services said he was the best at his position as he came out of Parkersburg High in the country, which would have set off weekend-long celebrations on some campuses had he been such a highly heralded running back.

Offensive linemen, though, are the grunts of football. They clear the path for the running backs. They protect the quarterbacks. The dirtier their uniforms are, the cleaner the ball carriers’.

Skill-position players seem to find a way to play immediately. Offensive linemen normally take a year or two to develop, to build up their strength in a college weight room, to learn to pass block, to acquire the knowledge necessary to block quicker defenders who are allowed to use their hands.

Jenkins understands the situation he’s in, that he isn’t about to break into the starting lineup of an offensive line that returns intact and that many say is the best in the nation. He realizes what he did at Parkersburg was nice, but it won’t even get him a free ride on the PRT, not even the two consecutive Hunt Awards he earned as the state’s best lineman.

“All those awards I got in high school, this is college now. I don’t have a one of them up here. I’ve moved on to bigger and better things, and that’s being part of this team right here,” he said the other day.

He has gone from All-America to a freshman, and he’s going at it as if he has much to prove.

“His helmet comes off and he’s still going after it,” is the way coach Bill Stewart puts it. “He’s like Jarrett Brown, good enough to play but he can’t get in the lineup.”

The coaches have Jenkins at right tackle, behind Greg Isdaner and still behind backup Donny Barclay, another in the same predicament, being good enough to play but having no spot to take.

Most impressive is the way Jenkins is going about his initiation to college football. If he gained a big head from the accolades he won in high school, it isn’t evident in his approach.

“Personally, I keep to myself a little more than some people. A lot of kids do a lot of talking. I don’t want to do that talking, because I don’t know what I’m going to do,” Jenkins said. “If you’re unpopular on the field, the upper classmen will not come up to you and help you.

“When I got here, I was having trouble with my steps. (Ryan) Stanchek and (Mike) Dent came up to us and showed us what we had to do. I’m sure it’s annoying to them sometimes, having to do it over and over. But we’re young. It’s nice people to be around.”

Rather than boasting on his own abilities and whining about the potential of either redshirting or playing a backup role, something he has never done, Jenkins’ attitude is one of deference to those who stand ahead of him.

“Ryan Stancheck, Isdaner, Dent, Figner and Selvish. They’re the real deal. I see why they’re ranked the No. 1 line in the country right now,” he said.

This is not to say that Jenkins has ever accepted the possibility that he will redshirt, something that as camp opened seemed almost a certainty. His position coach, Dave Johnson, said it is almost impossible for a freshman to move in and play offensive line in college during his first year, that it takes a combination of skill and injuries to create such a situation.

“It’s very tough,” Johnson said. “It’s demanding, No. 1 physically and No. 2 mentally. There are just so many intricacies and so many things you have to coach within each individual position and then as a group. Then you get into assignments and all the different things that can happen on a certain play, different fronts, pressure. All those things make it very difficult.”

“There’s a chance I might play this year. There’s also a chance I will redshirt. I’m not worried about it either way. I’m a freshman. If I redshirt, I redshirt,” Jenkins said.

But given his druthers, he’d like to experience playing college football right now.

“No kid wants to sit down for a year. I’d love to play,” he said. “If I play, it’s a luxury. That means I’m good enough to play on a line with all All-Americas.”

E-mail Bob Hertzel at bhertzel@hotmail.com.

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