Read a chronicle of Malcolm Jenkins’ trip to Oklahoma City to be honored as nation’s top defensive back 

Buckeye assistant coach Taver Johnson and communications director Shelly Poe had the privilege of accompanying Malcolm Jenkins and his family to Oklahoma City for festivities surrounding Monday night’s presentation of the Jim Thorpe Award. Some notes on their adventures:

Sunday, Feb. 8:

Malcolm and girlfriend Gloria, along with proud parents Gwen and Lee Jenkins, arrive in Oklahoma City to begin the celebration. First order of business getting our New Jersey-born Buckeye outfitted with Western wear. A visit to a cowboy clothier got Malcolm all set with a black 10-gallon hat and a new pair of black ostrich boots with scarlet and gray stitching.

Monday, Feb. 9:

10:15 a.m.: Traveling to Oklahoma City, Taver spots OSU All-American Orlando Pace in the St. Louis airport; he and his delightful family send along a hearty “Go Bucks!”

Noon: Malcolm and family are guests at a luncheon at the Jim Thorpe Rehabilitation Hospital, an amazing facility. Asked to share a funny story about her son, Gwen admits that America’s top defensive back didn’t like playing football when he first started the sport he was more enthused about the free hot dogs after each game!

12:30 p.m.: Taxi driver from the airport, hearing we are in town for the Jim Thorpe Award, immediately praises Thorpe as a “great Native American and a very great American,” and wants to tell us about his own Native American heritage. Although Thorpe died in 1953, he is still very much beloved by Oklahomans. We are loving the 70-degree-plus weather!

1:30: Malcolm is honored in the senate chambers at the Oklahoma State Capitol on “Jim Thorpe Award Day” and gets a standing ovation when he tells them how much he likes the state, its people and his new cowboy boots!

5:00: Wearing a gray tuxedo with a scarlet necktie and those new boots, Malcolm leads the Ohio State delegation (in Oklahoma, OSU means Oklahoma State) to the National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum, site of the awards banquet. What a place! The museum is filled with Western art, paintings and statues, memorabilia from cowboy movies and literature and a ballroom with stunning, gigantic tri-panel paintings of the Grand Canyon, Yosemite Falls, Monument Valley and other vistas of the West.

6:00: Several TV and newspaper interviews and lots of requests for photos and autographs. Our hosts continue to tell us more Jim Thorpe trivia: his native name was “Bright Path,” he was the first president of what became the NFL, and won a national ballroom dancing championship maybe the first “Dancing with the Stars” athlete!

6:30: A number of Ohio State alums and fans are on hand among the record crowd of 750. Malcolm is especially happy to see Kim Beckman, wife of former Buckeye assistant Tim Beckman, who just left Oklahoma State to become head coach at Toledo. Several fraternity brothers from Oklahoma chapters of Omega Psi Phi are there as well.

7:00: Dinner begins with a terrific rendition of the National Anthem by Oklahoma Highway Patrolman Stanford McConnell, who performs twice again during the program. Former Thorpe Award winners Antoine Cason (San Diego Chargers) and Roy Williams (Dallas Cowboys) and Lt. Governor Jari Askins were among those presenting awards.

8:45: Following a highlight video, an emotional Taver Johnson gets up to introduce Malcolm for the formal presentation. Praising the consensus All-American as a man of integrity, he says if his four-year-old son Tyree grows up to be half the man Malcolm is, he will be a proud parent. Johnson closes his remarks: “At Ohio State, we love you, we’ll miss you and we’ll never ever forget you.”

9:00: Malcolm receives the Thorpe Award, a statuette of the world’s greatest athlete, to wild applause. Speaking on the theme “God is so good, you just can’t imagine what he has in store,” he thanks his family, teammates and coaches, and praises the Thorpe Award committee for its hospitality. “I come from the East Coast, and it’s nice that here you get more hugs than handshakes.” He challenges the young people in the audience to believe in themselves and God, and work hard to make things happen. As a three-minute standing ovation ensues, he stops en route back to his table to take photos with the Ohio State alumni group. The banquet concludes with a singing of “Happy Trails To You.”

10:00: More photos, autographs and laughs back at the hotel. The Thorpe Award committee, relaxed after a great event, shares in the fun and hospitality.

Wednesday, Feb. 10:

5:45 a.m.: Loading the limousine for a very early trip back to Will Rogers Airport. Malcolm has his new hat in a box that barely fits on an airplane seat. After grabbing a number of copies of the Oklahoman newspaper, with a photo of Malcolm taking up of the sports page, the Buckeyes head home

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Malcolm Jenkins had dreams about playing in the NFL, just as many other little kids did. He never really believed he’d be so close to making them come true.

Growing up in what he called a “concrete jungle” in New Jersey, Jenkins rarely even had a serious thought about college football, much less the pros. Just getting noticed by Ohio State was a huge first step.


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Malcolm Jenkins spurned the NFL and returned to school, in part, for this moment. He was a semifinalist for the Thorpe as a junior, and last year, when he announced he would return to Ohio State for his senior season, he had three reasons.