Success With Honor: Bubba Jenkins
March 10, 2009
By Becky Murdy, Penn State Athletic Communications Student Assistant
His smile is contagious, his attitude is confident, his leadership is respected and his talent is natural.
Jesse "Bubba" Jenkins III will be the first to tell you that without the exponential amount of people who have inspired him throughout his life he would not be the wrestler or the person that he is today.
"My mentor is Bruce Pearl who was my football coach, he taught me the do's and don'ts of life when my father died. My high school coach, Cory Williams, is the one who gave me my style, my swagger and my attitude."
The enthusiastic 149-pound All-American does not have to look far for inspiration during a Penn State wrestling match. Jenkins can look up and find the support of his step-father, Carmelo, his mother, Teresa, and the rest of his fans. Or he can look down at his forearms, where inspiration is tattooed, reminding him to stay focused and fight.
"I have tattoos on both of my forearms of angels wrestling. One of my father and one of my grandfather," Jenkins said. "When my arms are put together their hands lock to show the two wrestling together. The best part is when I win a match and get my hand raised, one of them gets to fly up towards the sky."
Both his grandfather and father passed away when Jenkins was young- his father, Jesse Jenkins Jr., a two-time-state champion, when he was nine, and his grandfather, Jesse Jenkins Sr., when he was 19. Both being wrestlers, Jenkins was raised around wrestling, but now he wrestles to release his some of the frustration built up from the losses he has experienced during his life, translating that energy into the hard work that goes into being a successful wrestler.
"I was really angry when my dad died, I was a daddy's boy," Jenkins recalled. "I wanted to do as much as I could to my opponent while wrestling to release that anger, so I worked hard and working hard just became a habit."
Between his freshmen and sophomore seasons, Jenkins traveled to Beijing, where he won the 2007 FILA Junior World Championships. Between those seasons Jenkins shifted down to 149 after spending his freshman campaign at 157. Last season, The All-American went 26-6, losing only to top-10 ranked wrestlers. In March of 2008, Jenkins competed in the Big Ten Championships going 2-2, beating No. 6 Lance Palmer of Ohio State twice and losing to No. 1 Brent Metcalf of Iowa and No. 4 Josh Churella of Michigan, to finish, for him, a disappointing fifth at the tournament.
But the frustration of the Big Ten tournament was quickly forgotten. The Virginia Beach native cemented his position as one of the nation's top 149-pounders by becoming the 2008 NCAA National Runner-Up, going 4-1 in the tournament. Seeded sixth at 149, Jenkins defeated the 11th, 3rd and 7th seeds before he reached he final match, only to face off against Metcalf once again. Jenkins lead early in the match, but dropped a tough 14-8 decision in the finals, making three of his six losses on the year to the national champion.
"After last season, I learned that I could compete with the best. I learned that it is all about how hard you work in the wrestling room, which determines how you wrestle in a match," Jenkins said.
The journey to nationals was one filled with experiences and lessons that Jenkins now takes into the 2009 season. The newly named captain takes on more responsibility this season in hopes to lead the Lions to a national title. Memories of last season still exist for Jenkins, but it is a new chapter in a new year for the Nittany Lion.
"I thought I wrestled well last season. All the right moves and all the conditioning came together," he said. "I beat a lot of guys who were ranked higher than me. I think I wrestled up to par until the third period at nationals where I gave up five points. It still plays in my head, but I can't think about that too much because then I lose focus."
This season Jenkins has led the Nittany Lions by posting a 24-1 record, 14-0 in duals. He has 68 dual points, three pins, two technical falls and a team-best eight majors. Jenkins suffered an ankle injury in the Big Ten opener against Indiana on January 3, forcing him to miss duals against Purdue, Minnesota and Wisconsin. He returned from the injury with a vengeance and finished second in the 149-pound weight class at the recent Big Ten Championships.
"I have the same mind-set as last year, just hoping for a different ending, I have tweaked a few things along the way, but most of it stays the same," noted the team co-captain.
Even before he was named captain, Jenkins was always a natural leader, standing by the Penn State bench after his match to cheer on each member of his team as they wrestled. His personality and attitude are infectious. When a match is close he gives pointers and yells "you still have time." At the end of matches when Penn State needs a take down or an escape to win, Jenkins will start clapping his hands, beginning slowly then faster, getting the entire Rec Hall crowd involved.
"I start the crowd clapping for my teammates because I know that when the crowd starts clapping for me, I feel that I must perform for them, do something excited for them," Jenkins said. "If the crowd is into it, then I should be into it as well and I pick up my energy level for them. When the crowd is behind us, we aren't wrestling alone and it really does put pressure on our opponents."
The "Big Stage" at nationals may seem far away for most, but Jenkins works out and practices like each match helps prepare him for the national championship match. After he recovers from his ankle injury, Jenkins will be back starting for the Nittany Lions and getting ready to achieve his final goal: Another shot at a national title and a proper ending. But what will it take?
"Conditioning and becoming mentally tougher are the keys," Jenkins said. "The final match wont involve fighting with hands, the winner will be determined by who fights with the most heart."
"Jenkins will have his angels with him, his family's love and his fan's support for every match to guide him to the next and final step. "I got to go to prom last year and dance a little to get some experience. This year, I want to go and make the last dance a perfect one."