Bethune-Cookman football coach Brian Jenkins, who will lead his Wildcats against Miami at noon Saturday in the Hurricanes’ home opener, grew up in Fort Lauderdale and starred at Dillard High in the late 1980s — the glory days at UM.
To hear him talk about “The U” and how deeply its players and dynasty affected his youth, you would think he played there. But Jenkins, a former receiver and running back who broke numerous records as a return specialist at Cincinnati, came as close to the Hurricanes as he would ever get when he coached against them in the programs’ debut meeting last season.
“I probably wouldn’t be sitting here today if I didn’t have the experience and respect I had for the University of Miami and the impact it had on my community and me and several others I played high school ball with,” Jenkins said on a teleconference this week. “That program really helped a lot of inner-city kids, a lot of kids from the hood, a lot of kids from the ghetto, and I’m one of those kids. That program reached out to touch a lot of people and it made a big impression on all of us.”
Jenkins and his Wildcats, who lost 45-14 in last season’s meeting, had 11 minutes 49 seconds of glory in that game — the amount of time they led the Hurricanes 7-0 after Bethune quarterback Jackie Wilson tossed a 1-yard pass to Eddie Poole for a touchdown.
Premium content for only $0.99
For the most comprehensive local coverage, subscribe today.
Wilson, as it turns out, is best friends with UM cornerback Brandon McGee.
The degrees of separation between these programs are a lot closer than the 270 or so miles that separate Daytona Beach and Coral Gables.
And when they meet again Saturday at Sun Life Stadium, several players will get reacquainted on the field. There are 18 players from South Florida on the Bethune-Cookman roster.
“Great team, great coaches, great athletes,” said McGee of the Football Championship Subdivision program.
“We grew up with a lot of those guys. They come out and play with chips on their shoulders, so you have to respect them. Me and Jackie met in Pre-K and went to the same elementary school. In middle school, every day he’d come to my house and we’d be sitting there watching TV. He was really there for me when I lost my mother.”
The game isn’t even on the board in Las Vegas, but UM (1-1) is coming off a demoralizing 52-13 loss at Kansas State and has given up 84 points and 1,035 yards in its first two games.
Bethune (2-0), which runs a no-huddle offense and uses two quarterbacks, has an eight-game winning streak dating to last season. The Wildcats even outgained the Canes 422-335 in last year’s meeting.
And though they haven’t scored in the first quarter this season, the Wildcats break out once they do.
After falling behind 21-0 to Alabama State in the first quarter of the Sept. 2 opener, Bethune stormed back to win 38-28.
Last week, the Wildcats were down 14-0 to South Carolina State in the first quarter but rebounded for a 27-14 victory.
“Obviously, Bethune is taking on the personality of their coach,” UM coach Al Golden said. “They’re very aggressive, very tough, came in here and gave us all we could handle a year ago. We expect much of the same.”
Golden knows the reality of noon games at Sun Life Stadium, especially when the opponent is from a lesser division and the home team isn’t exactly dominating the world. Fans can be sparse.
“They are important to us, and we do need their support,” Golden said.
“Clearly, as I’ve been saying all along, we have a long way to go as a team. There are going to be kids on this team that [fans] are going to have a chance to see for the first time. Our guys want to play well.”