Don't tell Jernell Jernigan that he can't do something. Eventually, he'll make you pay for your doubts.
Schools like Auburn considered offering a scholarship to the 5-foot-9, 180-pound Jernigan during his successful high school career. Then they reconsidered.
|Last season, Jernigan caught 71 passes for 1,101 yards and four touchdowns for Troy. (US Presswire)|
Three years and two first-team All-Sun Belt Conference seasons later, Troy is glad Auburn and many other programs decided to pass on Jernigan.
He has proven more than capable of producing and has shown the talent to get it done at any level. Over the past two seasons, he has caught 148 passes for 1,879 yards and nine touchdowns. He has also been effective as a kickoff returner (second-team All-Sun Belt with 23.0-yard average) and even taken snaps in the Wildcat formation in the red zone (520 rushing yards, two touchdowns in 2008-2009).
Jernigan told NFLDraftScout he doesn't worry about missing out on playing in the SEC, saying he's "glad" to be at Troy, especially since he got on the field right away instead of being down on the depth chart or redshirting early in his career.
He uses the snub as motivation to push himself in the weight room. And when Troy takes on schools from the major conferences, he admits that he and his teammates get up for those games.
"Most of us were too small, too slow, not tall enough," Jernigan said. "So we have something to prove."
Jernigan has proven himself against BCS schools during his career. He caught 11 passes and scored twice against Georgia as a true freshman, and had a 10-reception performance against LSU in 2008.
The same year, Ohio State welcomed Troy into the Horseshoe. Jernigan caught eight passes for 66 yards in the game but took special pleasure in his 45-yard touchdown reception.
"[Buckeyes middle linebacker James] Laurinaitis and [outside linebacker Marcus] Freeman were telling me not to come over the middle -- so I did the okey-doke to get behind them on one play to take it to the house."
But there was no real disrespect from the 2008 Big Ten champion defenders. Many came up to Jernigan after the game saying he was "a heck of a player."
It's easy to agree with that assessment. In scouting Jernigan on tape, he has verifiable 4.3 speed, excellent short-area quickness and solid hands. He is very willing to run crossing routes over the middle -- ironic since that's what SEC teams questioned about him coming out of high school.
"It's all about matchups in our offense ... I'll take on that linebacker any day," he said.
Two questions scouts still have about Jernigan entering 2010: Blocking and durability.
His small frame might not allow him to dominate defenders at the next level. He said he understands that he needs to step up his play this season.
"I used to come out on run plays, but we have a young team now and I'll be playing outside more," he said. "...So you'll see me coming down to get to the linebackers this year."
The durability question isn't a factor, in Jernigan's opinion. He has missed only one game in three years. He sprained the AC joint in his right shoulder in the 2009 season opener but played through it without missing a game. Asked if the shoulder is still affecting him, he boasted with a smile you could almost hear through the telephone: "I'm benching 355 [pounds] right now, so that's all I have to say about that."
Many players outside BCS conference schools deny their dreams of an NFL future. Jernigan was candid in saying the league is "in the back of my mind when I come to work, when I'm in the weight room, watching film --- that's why I continue to work hard, to make it there someday."
One big step toward reaching his dream could be made just three hours down Interstate 65 from Troy's campus. Each year, the Senior Bowl brings the top senior talent available to Mobile. Oftentimes, the top Troy senior gets a call, giving the Alabama crowd a local player from outside the SEC for whom they can root during the week. Last year, Troy defensive ends Brandon Lang and Cameron Sheffield made the trip to Mobile, the same trip former first-round picks DeMarcus Ware and Leodis McKelvin made in previous years.
Jernigan likely won't follow in the footsteps of McKelvin and Ware as a first-round pick, but is projected to be selected somewhere between the late second to fourth round. Don't be surprised if Jernigan gets an invite for the Senior Bowl as well as the scouting combine in Indianapolis a month later if his continued hard work results in a strong senior season.
And since the rising senior says he's in the best shape of his life, do not doubt his ability to put up big numbers again in 2010.
Chad Reuter is a Senior Analyst for NFLDraftScout distributed by The Sports Xchange.