LAKE CITY – It was more than a week ago, but I feel it is necessary to share Lake City, Columbia defensive tackle Timmy Jernigan’s heart and determination on display after a crushing 13-12 preseason loss to rival Fort White two weeks ago.
“I will take the blame for that,” said Jernigan, who is rated one of the top 2011 prospects in the state of Florida. “I have not been going 110 percent. I have not been the leader of my team. That is my responsibility.”
Jernigan showed flashes of brilliance at times. He repeatedly got to Indians quarterback Alex Gilmer and disrupted the Fort White running game through the first two quarters.
Then came the second half.
Jernigan sucked wind toward the end of the second quarter and never found his legs after that. Even his 6-foot-2, 275-pound frame wasn’t enough to hold up the middle of the Tiger defensive line.
With his team up 12-0 with half a quarter to play, the Indians went straight at Jernigan. Senior running back Montre Cray, who barely stands 5-foot-8, smashed into the end zone from 2 and 3 yards to seal it.
After the Indian faithful boasted and bragged as they crowded the Tigers’ field, Jernigan could only hang his head. The loss meant nothing in the standings, but it meant everything to Jernigan.
He then took a page from the book of someone he’s all too familiar with and promised that something like this would never happen again.
“Like I told the fans, I’m not Timmy Tebow, I’m Timmy Jernigan,” he said. “I will push this team for the rest of this year. We will be the hardest-working team in America. We will be.
“That’s going to push me. I’m never going to take another play off. I should’ve stepped up and been a leader. I just can’t step into a game at halftime, get my team together, rally my team and make them come out here and destroy somebody. From now on, I make that promise that will never, ever happen again.”
Columbia coach Craig Howard, who first mentored Tebow at Jacksonville, Nease, said he wants to Jernigan to be every bit the leader that Tebow was at Nease.
“I hope he lives up to that word,” Howard said. “If he puts his mind to it, he can be the best in America. I had a Timmy that was pretty good at quarterback a few years ago and (Jernigan) can be the same at nose tackle. I need him to be the leader in this program. I need him to be the hardest worker in this program.”
Jernigan certainly will never be confused with Tebow, but he seems primed to follow in his footsteps.
The junior made it clear that Florida is the leader for his commitment and that he’s been going to Florida’s summer camp since seventh grade.
However, he claims to be uncommitted, despite rumors that he’s a silent to the Gators.
One thing that stands out the for Florida is Jernigan’s relationship with defensive line coach Dan McCarney.
“He always has a lot of energy, you never see him sad or moping,” Jernigan said. “He’s always high-energy. Every time he sees me he almost knocks the skin off my hand.”
Right now, Jernigan said recruiting can wait. He’s got an attitude adjustment to make. He promises the days of taking plays off in practice and games are over. He doesn’t have time to allow his laziness to hold his team back.
“I learned my lesson coming out on Fridays and being a Friday night player,” he said. “Now I’m going to be a player 365. I will push myself and my team the hardest of anyone in America. Anyone.”
So did Jernigan live up to his promise?
Well, Columbia certainly worked harder in its season opener against Folkston, Ga., Charlton County, but because of Georgia rules, the game ended in a 48-48 tie. So, the Tigers begin the season with an odd looking 0-0-1 record.
Jernigan and his friends will get a shot at their first win of the season when a hot Gainesville (1-0) travels to Lake City.