MORGANTOWN, W.Va. -- Rock bottom for Josh Jenkins came shortly after he heard the pop.
It was last spring, fourth quarter of the Gold-Blue spring game at Mountaineer Field, the night the toughest year of his career was set into motion.
"That sound. That's something you never forget. I knew I tore something," said the West Virginia offensive lineman. "I got down. That's the third knee injury. Not easy to go through."
Jenkins had surgery to repair a patellar dislocation and spent the next nine months going through rehabilitation and helping the team from the sidelines.
It was long. It got depressing. The nastiest player on the West Virginia offensive line had to lean on his family and learn how to fight through the doldrums.
Fast forward to this spring.
No. 77 is back at left guard and helps anchor a line that is starting to drum up talk of being the best Morgantown has had in years. The top six players have some 100 starts between them.
That, according to offensive line coach Bill Bedenbaugh, is just unheard of.
"I've never seen that before," Bedenbaugh said. "Obviously, it's going to be a huge deal. But the experience alone doesn't make you good. You've got to go out there and do it every day."
Count Jenkins as one guy who gets that.
As a freshman, Jenkins saw action in five games before a knee injury against Rutgers ended that season.
As a sophomore, he started all 13 games, and as a junior, he started 11 but suffered another knee injury.
Then came another knee injury last year.
"You never know when your last snap is. Mine could have been last spring," he said. "So it definitely made me have more appreciation for the game and enjoy this more. You only get to do this once in a lifetime."
Now, at 23, Jenkins is the old man of the group and comes with a level of maturity and experience, his position coach said.
"He's a guy who loves playing football," Bedenbaugh said. "He understood what he missed out on last year. Sometimes it takes something like that to understand how important football is to you. It's important to him."
With senior Joe Madsen at center, flanked by Jenkins on the left and Jeff Braun at right guard, the interior is experienced. Tackles Quinton Spain (left) and Pat Eger (right) round out the group.
The players, Bedenbaugh said, have made significant progress toward learning Dana Holgorsen's offense.
"It's night and day. It's not even close to what it was last spring at this time," Bedenbaugh said. "It's them maturing, them understanding me. It's not even close to where it was last year."
Jenkins said he believes the sky is the limit for this group and noted the trust between quarterback Geno Smith and the line is strong.
"There's been some great quarterbacks ... through here who can take off and run, but it's nice having a quarterback who sits back there and trusts the O-line. He's just a tough kid and I like blocking for him."
Overall, Jenkins said, the last year put life into perspective for him.
"I feel like adversity is thrown at you for a reason. It really, absolutely makes you a stronger person. You've got to fight through the difficult times.
"You've got to choose," he said. "I chose to work."
First Published April 8, 2012 12:00 AM