Jernigan's journey to UF?


Timmy Jernigan is a 6-foot-3, 275-pound defensive tackle at Columbia High School.

Lee Ferinden/Special to Gatorsports
Published: Tuesday, February 9, 2010 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Monday, February 8, 2010 at 5:15 p.m.

The praise came as fast and furious as a Dwight Freeney pass rush.

ESPN's Tom Luginbill called it "the best defensive group I've seen put together," and Scout.com's Scott Kennedy said "on the defensive side, there was not a miss anywhere."

What they were talking about was Florida's 2010 defensive recruiting haul, the centerpiece of which is the line.

Rivals.com rated defensive end Ronald Powell No. 1, defensive tackle Sharrif Floyd fourth, defensive tackle Dominique Easley seventh, defensive tackle Leon Orr 95th and end Lynden Trail 123rd overall. Likewise, Scout rated Powell second, Floyd sixth, Easley 12th, Trail 99th and Orr 255th. Both services ranked Powell, Floyd and Easley as five-star prospects and listed Trail and Orr as four stars.

The class was so loaded, UF coach Urban Meyer had to let defensive end Jackson Jeffcoat (Rivals No. 12, Scout No. 7) know there wasn't room for him and his five-star rating. He eventually signed with Texas.

"I'm not sure I've seen a defensive front as good as this one," Meyer said. "When you look at Ronald Powell, Sharrif Floyd, Leon Orr, Dominique Easley and Lynden Trail, those are some serious guys. I just think in certain areas, it's the best we've ever done."

So, with that group (and its overwhelming expectations) headed to Gainesville, what does that mean for the nation's top defensive tackle in the Class of 2011, a player 30 minutes up the road from The Swamp?

"When I first heard about all of those guys coming, I was like, 'Wow,' " said Columbia High School's 6-foot-3, 275-pound Tim Jernigan. "But then I thought, 'You can't be selfish.'

"It started hitting me that if I go there and you mix my name in there with Dominique, Sharrif and Powell ... fireworks."

As a junior, Jernigan was named The Sun's large-school defensive player of the year after recording 131 tackles, 27 tackles for loss (including 12 sacks), four fumble recoveries (two of which went for touchdowns) and three forced fumbles for the Tigers. Gainesville High School's talented junior quarterback Ryan McGriff described Jernigan as a "wall," and Scout already has issued him a five-star ranking.

Jernigan said he probably won't hold out making a college decision until the last minute, saying players that have a hat-choosing ceremony on National Signing Day do it "just for attention." However, he said he isn't nearly ready to choose a school.

Despite the big names in this year's class, Florida, Jernigan's childhood favorite, remains the leader. However, he added Michigan, Florida State, Alabama and LSU also have grabbed his attention.

He gave thoughts on each:

Florida — "It's simple. Just go to The Swamp, sit down to watch the game and go crazy. I've been close to coaches there since the ninth grade (when UF became the first college to offer him a scholarship), but really since the seventh grade. I've been around the Gators a long time."

Michigan — "I met some of the coaches. It seems like a pretty good program. It's a place I'd like to look into more."

FSU — "I like the coaches there and the number of defensive players they have put into the (NFL). That really stands out."

Alabama — "They win, and that's what any competitor wants. And that's why they are exciting."

LSU — "I like Louisiana, period. I look at some of the guys they've put into the (NFL) and that makes me think. I look at (former All-American defensive lineman) Glenn Dorsey (now of the Kansas City Chiefs), and I really look up to him. He was a great player there."

And how big a deal is Jernigan?

Columbia's Craig Howard knows a little something about top-level recruits. He coached Tim Tebow at Ponte Vedra Beach Nease and said Jernigan is the best prep defensive lineman he has ever seen.

"College coaches realize how good he is," Howard said. "Usually in December and January, assistant coaches come to high schools to look at juniors. With Timmy, it has been head coaches. Urban Meyer, Nick Saban and others ... they've taken the time to come talk about Timmy.

"So, he's on everyone's radar."

Jernigan said he has more than 30 scholarship offers and added that he's looking forward to learning more about potential college destinations this coming summer, fall and winter.

"Right now, I've only been to three schools in Florida (UF, FSU and South Florida)," said Jernigan, who added that his primary reason for selecting a college will be education. "So, I'm really looking forward to getting out more."

Jernigan said a decision likely won't come until he has visited numerous campuses, and once he makes an announcement, he won't be making any more.

"I'm not going to do it before the season because anything can happen," Jernigan said. "But I'm so loyal that once I say I'm going somewhere, that's where I'm going to go."

John Patton can be reached at 352-374-5074 or by e-mail at pattonj@gvillesun.com.

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