|BYU RB Ronney Jenkins with one of his 22 carries at Utah in 1998 (Todd Warshaw, Allsport).|
Before there was Taysom Hill inspiring chants of "Run, Taysom, Run," BYU Cougars fans were enamored with another ball carrier who ran more often than any other player in BYU history.
Twenty years ago, Ronney Jenkins returned to BYU for his highly anticipated sophomore season. As a true freshman in 1996, Jenkins set a new freshman rushing record for the Cougars with 733 yards on just 128 carries (5.7 yards per carry). He scored a team-high 14 touchdowns, and was named the WAC Mountain Division Freshman of the Year.
He redshirted 1997, and with the graduation of Brian McKenzie, Jenkins became the feature back in 1998--with emphasis on feature. Going into the season, Pete Van Valkenburg held the school record for most rushes in a season (232). Jenkins would easily eclipse that mark on his way to the second most rushing yards in a season in school history (currently fifth most).
Quarterback Kevin Feterik was returning for his junior season. Given BYU's tradition of passing the football, Jenkins wasn't the focal point of the offense, but the offensive coaching staff wasn't afraid to have Jenkins put the team on his back and carry them to victory when game situations required it.
The season opener at Alabama wasn't one of those games. Maybe the coaches didn't want to overwork Jenkins since he hadn't played in almost two years, and this game was in early September in the humid Southeast. Maybe BYU was forced to throw the ball a lot in order to comeback from a 24-7 second quarter deficit. Whatever the reason, Jenkins carried the ball just six times. He was the team's fifth leading rusher with 11 yards.
Game two was a different story. Feterik wasn't having one of his better games, but the 14th ranked Arizona State Sun Devils couldn't contain Jenkins. He carried the ball 30 times for 171 yards and one touchdown to help BYU build a 26-0 fourth quarter lead.
Jenkins' load the next two games dropped to 12 and 11 carries. The first game, Washington, was another case of the Cougars falling behind early. The second game was against a vastly inferior opponent Murray State. Jenkins ran for two touchdowns in the first half. Once BYU was up 29-0 in the third quarter, the coaches let other players get experience.
In October, Jenkins' workload stabilized. In five games, he carried the ball 26, 22, 16, 31, and 22 times (117 carries for an average of 23.4 per game). He had his second 100-yard rushing game the first Saturday of October reaching 126 against Fresno State. Jenkins also scored a touchdown against the Bulldogs. He would get into the end zone once in each of the next two games as well.
As the carry totals reflect, Jenkins had his most memorable game of the season on October 24 against San Jose State. Besides getting the most carries of his career (31), he had a career-high 250 yards rushing (second most in BYU history, at that time, currently fourth), and added four rushing touchdowns. It was his fifth consecutive game scoring a touchdown. He scored a fifth touchdown through the air to bring his touchdown total to 10 in this five-game span. Jenkins' heroics were just enough for BYU to escape with a 46-43 win.
San Diego State was the next opponent on the schedule; a school with which the Cougars had been known to have frequent shootouts. Oddly enough, the game turned out to be a defensive battle, so BYU didn't need another 200 yards from Jenkins. The Aztec defense ended Jenkins' scoring streak, but Jenkins and the Cougars got the last laugh as they snapped the entire San Diego State team's scoring streak in a 13-0 win.
As November rolled around, Jenkins got a little bit of a break. The BYU coaches saw something they could exploit in the New Mexico secondary, so BYU threw the ball 42 times this game. For the game, he carried the ball just eight times, but one was a 52-yard jaunt. He scored on that run and on a 52-yard pass to get back on the score sheet. Both scores were featured on ESPN's SportsCenter.
Three games remained, and BYU would rely on Jenkins in all three. He carried the ball over 20 times each game. On 21 carries against UTEP, Jenkins totaled 176 yards. His 79-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter gave BYU the lead for the first time and gave BYU the momentum to win 31-14. Jenkins went into the game with 912 yards rushing on the season. He was easily over 1,000 yards by the end of the game.
After UTEP, Jenkins returned to the site of his biggest game as a freshman. He embarrassed the Utes on their home field in 1996 with 29 carries for 156 yards and three touchdowns. This time around, Jenkins carried the ball just 22 times, but still managed 128 yards and scored one touchdown. It was enough as the Cougars emerged victorious, 26-24.
That took BYU to the WAC Championship game against Air Force. Jenkins ground out 91 yards on 25 carries. He broke Van Valkenburg's record for most carries in a season on his sixth carry of the day.
Jenkins' final rushing stats for the season were: 252 carries, 1,307 yards (5.2 YPC), and 13 touchdowns.
Jenkins was a memorable back, and he made sure he would be remembered with his record setting work load in 1998.
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