Jenkins coaches track team to success

Junior hurdler Karlis Daube (right) completes hurdles at the Hilltopper Relays Saturday at the Ruter Track and Field Complex. Since Head Coach Erik Jenkins took over at WKU four years ago, the track team has won seven Sun Belt Conference titles. They will compete for their eighth title May 11 – 13 in Louisiana.

Chela Counts

Taking over as head coach of both WKU’s men’s and women’s track and field teams wasn’t Erik Jenkins’ original plan.

But in just four years as head coach, the Quincy, Fla., native has won seven Sun Belt Conference titles, including four-straight league outdoor championships — accomplishments that Jenkins said were never once incorporated as goals.  

“Coaching and being in Bowling Green were not part of my long term plans, but I always feel that God puts you where he wants you, and you do what you can while you’re there,” he said.

As the middle child of an older sister and a younger brother, Jenkins is the only athlete in his immediate family.

After attending Florida State University School — a laboratory high school affiliated with Florida State University — Jenkins decided to transfer to nearby James A. Shank High School. Life on the track began late during his senior year all because of a bet.

“There was a guy in my class who was on the track team, and he was talking about how fast he was and that Florida High (FSUS) didn’t have any fast runners,” Jenkins said.

“…We decided to race the next morning, and little did I know that racing wasn’t allowed at Quincy Shanks, because when we got off of the bus, everybody was waiting, and after I won, the person to meet me at the end was Andy Gay… the assistant track coach and principal of Quincy Shanks,” he continued.  

After being given the option to serve an in-school suspension or go out for the track team, Jenkins decided to meet the track. He won a 300-meter challenge during his first practice with the team, earning his right to run.

Through guidance and mentorship from James Pelham, a track legend in the Southeast and Jenkins’ high school coach, running on a collegiate level was next.

WKU assistant Curtiss Long, Jenkins’ predecessor for 27 years, recruited him to become a sprinter for the Toppers.

“Western was the only school I didn’t visit, and I came just because of Coach Long,” Jenkins said.

After graduating from WKU with a mass communications degree, Jenkins moved to Champaign, Ill., to begin graduate work. Long informed him of a graduate assistant job at WKU, and Jenkins accepted the offer.

“He said, ‘Hey, you know, if you want to come back to school, we’ve got a graduate assistant job here’ and I said, ‘Let me go back to Western,’” Jenkins said. “I told myself that I could do this for a year or two, and next thing I knew, I was liking it.”

 After serving as a graduate assistant and moving onto being an assistant coach, Jenkins took the handoff from Long. On Jan. 1, 2008, he was named head coach, a position that Long says he doesn’t regret giving to Jenkins.

“Jenkins had that drive to excel that is necessary in track and field, because track and field is one of these individual sports,” Long said.

“…You have 21 events. You have to coach 21 different types of activities. You have to be willing to not look at the clock.

“It is a 24/7 job, and he has the focus and dedication needed in order to perform in that set of circumstances.”

Jenkins said God is his mentor when coaching every day.

“God is my comforter and my strength,” Jenkins said. “I’m not perfect, but he’s also helped me have a certain amount of people with discernment who have bigger ideas and understand where I came from but also understand where I’m trying to go.”

Looking into the future, Jenkins still has high standards set for his staff and all of his student athletes — just like the day he began.

“Everybody I have around me, I like and care for deeply,” he said.

“…but we’re gonna work hard, and we’ll have fun later. We’re gonna outwork people and be disciplined so that when we go to certain places, you understand a drill, you understand what’s going on.”

Junior thrower Houston Croney said he enjoys that style of coaching.

“He is a coach that will challenge you and push you rather than one that will baby you,” Croney said.