Created:Monday, October 10, 2011 5:30 a.m.CDT

Jenkins shines in his first start for NIU

Northern Illinois defensive end Sean Progar (middle) celebrates with linebacker Pat Schiller (53) and Kyle Jenkins after Progar’s sack of Kent State quarterback Cedric McCloud for a 14-yard loss in the third quarter Saturday in DeKalb. (Rob Winner –

DeKALB – Finally, Kyle Jenkins feels comfortable.

After two years filled with injury and ill-fitting position changes, the redshirt senior finally made his first start in a Northern Illinois uniform.

The defensive end had a sack and a fumble recovery in Saturday’s 40-10 win against Kent State at Huskie Stadium.

“This was the best game I ever had,” Jenkins said with a smile. “It’s been a long, long journey.”

This is how it was always supposed to be for the defensive end.

After transferring from Harper Community College, where he was named a NJCAA Second Team All-American, Jenkins expected to come in and contribute right away.

He played defensive tackle during his first spring at NIU, but the position didn’t feel quite right. Jenkins didn’t have a chance to grow into the position because he tore the ACL and meniscus in his right knee during the spring, ending his first year before it started.

The next year, former NIU coach Jerry Kill moved him to the offensive line before shifting him to tight end.

That switch proved disastrous. Jenkins didn’t play the entire season.

“I’m not going to lie, it wasn’t comfortable,” Jenkins said. “I was still trying to do my best and learn my offense and learn how to be an offensive lineman, then go to tight end and learn to be a tight end. I tried my best, but it just didn’t work out for me.”

Early in spring practice this year, coach Dave Doeren told Jenkins he would move back to defense, and the move has proved fruitful.

The 6-foot-4, 253-pound lineman has played in every game this season, contributing 15 tackles.

It’s his consistency that prompted Doeren to move Jenkins into the starting lineup Saturday.

“Every day he shows up and he’s the same guy,” Doeren said. “He knows what to do, and he knows where to go. He listens to his coach. What you see in practice from Kyle is what you get on gameday, and that’s the best thing about him.”

The fact that Jenkins stuck with the program has impressed fellow defensive end Sean Progar.

“I think it shows his commitment to the team, to the guys,” Progar said. “He wanted to prove himself and prove that he was a team player. He never argued about switching positions, he just brought his hard hat every day and went to work.”

That work paid off Saturday.

His fumble recovery and return to the 7-yard line set up a touchdown that put the Huskies up 14-3. His sack provided insurance in the third quarter.

Still, one thing could have made Saturday’s game even more special.

“I really wish I would have scored, but I got caught by the running back,” Jenkins said, still smiling.

With the way Jenkins is playing, there’s always next week.

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