Nov. 8, 2015
By Jon Cooper | The Good Word
In 2017, the road to the National Championship will come through Atlanta, as the city will host the College Football Playoff national championship game.
It’s actually not the first time that the city can make that boast. In 1990, Georgia Tech was voted UPI (coaches’ poll) National Champion, edging out Colorado (UPI champion, reward for an 11-0-1 season.
The 1990 team will be celebrated on Thursday night at halftime of the Yellow Jackets game with Virginia Tech, and standing front and center in the group of returning players and coaches will be one of its leaders, left tackle and co-captain Darryl Jenkins.
“Oh, I’ll be there,” said Jenkins, who now lives out in California, with his wife, the former Lisa Kofskey, Georgia Tech’s first All-Conference player (she earned Second Team honors in 1988), and sons Jordan, 18, and Devin, 14. “My wife wouldn’t allow me to miss it. We’ll be leaving out of California on a red-eye, we get in early Thursday morning.”
An overnight, cross-country journey is hardly an issue for Jenkins. Not after the journey he completed as a senior, the one that made Thursday night possible.
“It is hard to believe that it’s been 25 years. It seems like it was just yesterday,” said the Jacksonville, Fla., native who stood 6-5, 288 pounds was a four-year starter, and co-captain, along with defensive tackle Jeremiah McClary. “These years have flown by for sure.
“I just think about the guys,” he added. “Obviously, there are great memories made on the field but that locker room and the guys, it was such a close-knit group. It was a brotherhood. I think that’s what really elevated our play. We wanted to go out and play for one another and not let each other down. Obviously, we felt that we had a talented team. I know we felt we could take the ACC for sure and then we’d just have to see how things happened from there. We felt we could compete with anybody we were on the field with.”
Jenkins saw big things on the horizon to finish his career, especially following the tremendous finish to 1989, when the Jackets won seven of their final eight games to shake off an 0-3 start. The seven wins were two more than the team had put together in the first 25 games under Head Coach Bobby Ross.
“It was almost kind of a rags-to-riches story,” Jenkins recalled. “I think it started my junior year. Guys started to believe that we could be good and our mindset changed there. One, I think we got sick of losing and, two, we learned in ‘89 how to win. When we stepped on the field we not only want to compete but we expected to win.”
That expectation to win didn’t carry over from the pollsters, who didn’t have the Yellow Jackets on their radar as the season began. But they entered the top 25 — at 25 — in Week 3, and continued to ascend — taking a step back following the Week Six 13-13 tie at North Carolina. Tech cracked the top 10 following their thrilling 41-38 win over top-ranked Virginia at Scott Stadium. Labeled “The Brawl For It All,” by a Virginia newspaper, the game looked like it would be an early KO for the Cavaliers, who jumped out 13-0 and led 28-14 at the half before the Shawn Jones-led offense took flight and the defense stiffened.
“Virginia jumped all over us and I just remember on the sidelines trying to keep everybody up,” Jenkins recalled. “Although very frustrated and very angry that we allowed them to jump all over us, we knew that we had a high-powered enough offense to overcome the deficit. We just had to go out and execute. We felt that we could run the ball on them pretty easily.
“We felt we had an advantage up front and if we gave [quarterback] Shawn [Jones] some time and kept Chris Slade and a couple of their guys up front off of him that our receivers matched up pretty well with their defensive backs,” he added. “Obviously, the proof is in the pudding that we were able to battle back that day and put ourselves in a position to let one of the better kickers in the country do his job and he delivered. But it was a tremendous team effort.”
Scott Sisson, then a sophomore, was that kicker. He remembered Jenkins as the consummate leader by example.
“He was kind of a quiet, confident guy, just the kind of guy you saw doing the right things and saying the things that needed to be said,” Sisson said. “The whole turnaround was the seniors standing up and making a decision to move forward. He was certainly a big part of that.”
Jenkins and the Jackets squeaked by Virginia Tech the following week, the only game over the season’s final six in which Tech didn’t put up at least 40 points. That included a 40-23 smackdown of Georgia at Sanford Stadium, giving the senior class back-to-back wins over its rival.
“In a rivalry you can throw everything out of the window. They came out after us pretty good but we eventually imposed our will, started to execute and had a pretty nice margin of victory,” Jenkins remembered. “That is one of the highlights that we talked about when we designed the national championship ring. There were some diamonds in there that were for back-to-back wins over Georgia as well as Clemson. It was definitely a special moment to come out on top and move on into the bowl game on a high note.”
The No. 2/2 Yellow Jackets headed into the Florida Citrus Bowl as a juggernaut that was not going to be denied, certainly not by No. 19/13 Nebraska.
“I get goosebumps thinking about it,” Jenkins said. “Nobody really during that whole week, gave us credit for what we had accomplished that season. They thought it would be a mismatch of powerful, mighty Nebraska against this Cinderella story. We came out of the gate with a little bit of a chip on our shoulder to show the national audience that we were as good as anybody in the country. We had ALL decided that we were going to make a statement that day.”
Tech never trailed, jumping out 21-0, then holding off the Huskers who got to within 21-14. Two fourth-quarter scores, by William Bell, including a remarkable 58-yarder, sealed the 45-21 win.
The Jackets would finish second to Colorado in the UPI despite the Buffaloes having a loss, a tainted fifth-down win and a controversial clip to hold off Notre Dame in the Orange Bowl, but pulled out the top spot in the AP vote, edging the Buffaloes by one vote, a vote that has been attributed to Nebraska Coach Tom Osborne.
Jenkins would play one year of pro ball, with the NFL’s San Diego Chargers, where the debate over the ‘90 National Championship would continue with CU’s star running back Eric Bieniemy, and while Ross would join the Chargers the next season the reunion was short, as Jenkins retired during training camp at Ross’ behest.
“He saw how my body had deteriorated and that my knee had gotten progressively worse,” Jenkins said. “We’ve always had a special relationship and his suggestion was for me to retire because my body wasn’t able to go. They were probably going to release me anyway.”
Jenkins has stayed on the West Coast, helping raise Jordan, who is beginning his freshman year at Willamette University in Salem, Ore., where he plans to play two sports (basketball and baseball), following his senior year at Valencia High School where he graduated with the Distinguished Scholar Award (3.9+GPA) and as the Scholar Athlete of the Year. Younger brother Devin is in his freshman year at Valencia, following his brother as a two-sport participant (basketball and baseball).
He also kept busy coaching football from youth all the way up to high school, coaching youth basketball and youth baseball from 1994 until this past August when he finally decided to hang it up. He’s stayed in touch with his teammates, something that’s become easier as he’s become more computer savvy, recently joining Facebook and LinkedIn amongst other social media.
Jenkins hopes Thursday’s 25th anniversary goes better for the Jackets than the 20th, the first such reunion, a 35-10 loss to Miami, but regardless, he is looking forward to seeing his former teammates again.
“I’ve been fortunate enough to stay in contact with some of my linemates,” he said. “Mark Hutto, especially, who was actually in my wedding, Jerrelle Williams and Charlie Simmons and Marco [Coleman], are down living in my hometown of Jacksonville. I get on the phone with them and share a few laughs and some conversation. It’s a very special group.”